Thursday, 25 October 2018

Archive Internship, 2018


This week, we welcome a new Archive Intern to the LHSA team and, if you're a regular follower of the blog, you may recognise her!


Hi there! I am Vannis Jones, the latest LHSA archive intern, and like many before me, I too have just completed my MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University of Glasgow. I have been a weekly volunteer in LHSA for a year and ten months (!), so I am delighted to make the jump to an official member of staff, albeit temporarily. My past projects at LHSA have been extremely varied and have included cataloguing small personal collections, oral histories, drawings of surgical instruments (for more about this, see my previous blog post), administrative haematology records, and more. I have also had the opportunity to use Encoded Archival Description, an XML-based standard for encoding archival finding aids, to catalogue tuberculosis case notes.

At my desk in the office
This internship, however, focuses on a medium with which I have little professional experience—photographs. I have catalogued and rehoused the odd photograph in various smaller general deposit collections at LHSA, but I have never had the opportunity to work with a large body of photographs. In this internship, I will be addressing the photograph cataloguing backlog, beginning first with photographs that have been assigned identifiers using a legacy numbering system. Once these photographs are fully catalogued in line with LHSA’s current practices, I will move on to the body of photographs that are entirely uncatalogued. The fun of photograph cataloguing is that photographs tend to be a bit more challenging to decipher than other documentary evidence. It is not at all uncommon for photographs to have no label, date, or any other contextual information to assist in determining its provenance or writing an archival description. This requires a great deal of resourcefulness and creative thinking in order to interpret any visual clues that are present in the photograph. An example from past projects would be photographs of Red Cross nurses—the designs of their uniforms have changed over time, and by comparing photographs of the nurses with online Red Cross resources, it is possible to date these photographs to a relatively high degree of accuracy. I believe this detective work will be one of the greatest (and most exciting) challenges of this project.

Nurses and male staff member from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital, 1900s (P/PL3/S/061)
An example from this past week of visual clues – the photograph above portrays staff from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital and Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, and was found by a member of the public during a house move. It is not labelled in any way, but the nurses’ clothing can provide indications as to their roles. The woman seated in black is a matron, and the other three are nurses. You may notice, however, that one of the nurses has a distinctive belt. Whilst we have not decoded the meaning of this belt, it may indicate that she holds a higher rank or different role from the other nurses. 

Throughout my internship I will also have some exciting professional development opportunities, including liaising with the conservation intern (who you'll hear from next week) on a smaller project or two, visiting other Edinburgh and Lothian repositories, and attending talks related to archives and conservation, to name a few. I am looking forward to further honing my skills I have developed over the past two years during this internship, and I can’t wait to see what fun, quirky, puzzling, and unique photographs await me!


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