Friday, 21 December 2018

Archive Advent Calendar!

It’s finally here, the most anticipated event of the year… it’s the LHSA Christmas Blog!

This festive season we have been participating in the ARA Scotland #ArchiveAdventCalendar. Each day of December from the 1st to the 24th was assigned a topic and our task was to Tweet a picture and ask people to guess what was behind the #ArchiveAdventDoor.

Although medical archives are possibly not your first thought when you think of Christmas we were able to find images for the majority of the topics throughout the month from our photograph collections, hospital magazines and Christmas cards and in this blog we will show off some of our favourites.

Craigleith in the Snow, GD1/62/3

In this picture you can see a snow covered Craigleith. In 1917 Craigleith would have been home to the Second General Military Hospital after Craigleith Hospital was requisitioned by the army during the First World War.

The image comes from Alice Grant’s photo album:

Curling at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, GD16

Next is an image which comes from our Physician Superintendents of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital collection (GD16) and shows a game of curling on the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Both patients and staff played curling together and references to the games can be found in editions of the hospital magazine the Morningside Mirror:

Bruntsfield ward with Christmas decorations, LHB8/17/3/4

From our Bruntsfield Hospital collection we found a photograph showing staff and patients in a ward full of Christmas decorations. In the foreground is a snowman that scared a few people on Twitter!

Group of nurses holding Christmas drinks and sweets, LHB4/4/7/11

Last of all is a photograph of nurses from Chalmers Hospital holding a selection of Christmas treats. If you can manage to move your eyes away from the chocolate and drinks you can see that there was still a chance to get one of your five a day from the bowl of fruit on offer.

We hope you enjoyed the selection of some of our favourite Christmas images from across our collections.

Make sure you follow #ArchiveAdventCalendar and #ArchiveAdventDoor for more from LHSA and archives across Scotland!

And most importantly of all the LHSA team would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Friday, 14 December 2018

Catching up with Nat and Vannis...

As we  near Christmas, we are coming to the end of our time with Natalia Vladinova, our Conservation Intern, and Vannis Jones, our Archives Intern. You can learn more about them here: and here:

We have loved having Vannis and Nat with us, and they have been a pleasure to have as part of the team. Furthermore, they have done invaluable work, both on our Ernst Levin collection (about which we'll be hosting a PhD in 2019 - more next year!) and in finally tidying up our photograph collection, meaning that we have only one way of referencing them (instead of - sometimes - three!).

First of all, it's over to Vannis:

Hi again! As you may remember from my previous blog post (see link above), I have spent the last eight weeks cataloguing and rehousing LHSA’s rich photographic collections. I am delighted to report that I have catalogued and rehoused a total of 2331 photographs and have completely eliminated the legacy numbering system, bringing that ongoing project to a close. Hooray! Whilst there still remain some uncatalogued photographs across the collections, this rationalisation of numbering systems allows our cataloguing focus to now be centred on these unlisted/uncatalogued materials as well as new accessions, thereby significantly reducing our photographic backlog.

In between cataloguing photographs, I have had numerous other opportunities for professional development, from outreach, to reading room supervision, to answering reader enquiries. A real highlight was a commemorative World War I exhibition at Leith Library centred on the Leith Roll of Honour, held at LHSA. The Roll of Honour is a set of five volumes that list the names of all Leithers who fell during the First World War. It was originally held in the war memorial at Leith Hospital, but was transferred to LHSA on the hospital’s closure. I was tasked with creating a display revolving around the Roll of Honour and Leith Hospital. This involved selecting materials, arranging the materials, mitigating risk of damage in transport and display, and invigilating the display along with Louise Williams and Ruth Honeybone on the day of the exhibition. In addition to three volumes of the Roll of Honour, I chose to include Leith Hospital minute books, annual reports, a letter book, and photographs all relating to the impact World War I had on Leith Hospital. With the help of Natalia, I found suitable book cradles and supports for all materials, created melinex covers for the items, and packed them for transport.

Leith Library display
Visitor with the page of the Roll of Honour mentioning his father's military honours

On the day, the exhibition attracted a considerable amount of attention from the local community, particularly those whose relatives had fought in the First World War. One gentleman was so lucky as to find his father’s name in a list of those who had not fallen but had received special honours on the very page I chose to display in the fifth volume—what are the odds? From a professional development standpoint, this was an excellent opportunity for me to speak to members of the public about our archive and its holdings, give an informal presentation on the display to an English as a foreign language class, and to really be involved in the full scope of a public engagement event. It is so special to see people engaging and identifying with the materials, telling their own stories of Leith Hospital and the war, and their delight on finding a personal connection with our holdings. In all, this was an exceptionally rewarding day and one of the most valuable experiences I have had during my time at LHSA.
The Leith Roll of Honour is digitised and available to view online. Volume 1 is available at the following link:

Nat has also been more than busy, as you can read below:

The aim of myproject is for a collection that makes up the family papers of Ernst Levin, neurologist to be surveyed and rehoused in a safe way that makes it very accessible for an upcoming PhD. The collection consists of many loose letters and ones that are still in their original envelopes, lots of greeting cards and postcards, some art sketches, many photographs of the family, and even a sword with a harness. This personal collection is quite unusual for LHSA, and the varied media it consists of makes it a challenging one for rehousing.

A spreadsheet was created that gave me a pretty good idea on the amount of boxes, folders etc. I would need. My predictions on quantity of materials needed for rehousing turned out pretty accurate, but I was in for a surprise with the time I thought each box would take.

Survey table for the collection

The nature of the documents in the collections – letters and personal correspondence between spouses, close friends and family - suggests that people did not just send some information on paper, but small tokens of intimate nature as well, such as photographs, post cards and quite a lot of pressed flowers (even some small packets of sugar). All of these objects require careful handling, as they are fragile and you cannot really tell if an envelope will have any of these or not. That meant that some boxes took a couple of hours, while other could take up to three or four days.

The method for rehousing that was chosen was for each enveloped letter to have its own single crease folder, and larger manila folder would contain a couple of single folders. All of these are stacked and put into an archival box made of acid free cardboard.

Box 5 before rehousing....
And after...

Rehoused box 3 - note housing for notebooks

It did take the full eight weeks of internship for the rehousing project. It also took more than 60 archival boxes and more than 3200 folders to rehouse the 24 boxes of varied materials. That would mean that there are more than 3200 individual letters and documents that need to be catalogued – quite a task for an archivist!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Western General Hospital Oral Histories

In this month’s blog we will be hearing from two of our volunteers who have been cataloguing and part transcribing our
Western General Hospital oral histories as part of the hospitals 150th anniversary!

Western General Hospital, Main Entrance and Driveway, LHSA photographic collection

First let’s hear from Mila who discusses working with oral histories and what she enjoyed most about the experience…

My name is Mila Daskalova, and I am a former student of the University of Edinburgh. I graduated from my MSc in Book History and Material Culture in 2017, and currently I am doing a PhD at the University of Strathclyde, exploring the history of periodicals published by patients in nineteenth-century mental institutions. I’ve been volunteering at the LHSA since September this year.

As a student, I’ve worked with various historical sources. I’ve deciphered impossible handwriting and marginal notes in dusty books, frantically opened tab after tab of digitised documents in my Internet browser and sifted through thick volumes of archival records in search of a single familiar name. I’d dealt little with oral histories because most of the people whose stories I’ve been interested in had lived and died before the invention of sound recording devices. Helping with the archiving of the recordings held at the LHSA has been a fascinating experience.

The first oral history I worked with was an interview with Dr Wilma Jack whose experience at the NHS Cancer Services and the Edinburgh Breast Unit make her a particularly valuable source of information about the history of the Western General Hospital and the development of cancer treatment in Edinburgh and Scotland. Prior to the project, I had little knowledge of the institution and its role in the history of cancer services. In the process of cataloguing the interview, I learned a lot, but this first formal encounter with oral histories was much more than another lesson in history.

There is something about oral history that is often missing in written historical narratives: oral histories are emphatically personal. Even when the speaker tries to speak generally, the listener is always aware that the information is rooted in personal experience. I believe that is what makes oral histories particularly powerful and interesting. When historians write history, they often try to detach themselves from the events they describe, even if they happened in their lifetime. Oral histories demand speakers to position themselves in the events, in history.

The most interesting moments of Wilma’s interview are those where she offers her personal reflections on issues such as when she talks about her ways of dealing with the frequent encounters with pain, fear and loss in the cancer services. Listening to her talk about her experience and views makes me curious about all the people who have passed through that place over the 150 years since its establishment in 1868. What would they have to say about witnessing or experiencing illness or the building where they worked or went with the hope of recovery? It’s amazing to think about the possibility of someone listening to Wilma’s voice 150 years from now.

Perhaps my favourite bit is her reflection on her patient notes. Throughout her career she developed a system of keeping track of patients’ medical histories by writing down any relevant information on small reference cards. She says that, despite the computerisation of medical practice in the past years, she still relies on her own handwritten notes. As someone who is also reluctant to let go of old-school note-taking, I could relate to her preference for paper over the screen.

Next is Ellen who was interested to discover the history that links the Western General and Poland…

llustration of the Paderewski Hospital, Edinburgh, 1940s (GD28/8/1/1)

Cataloguing and transcribing the oral histories of doctors and nurses who have worked at the Western General Hospital has been an exciting project. As an Edinburgh native, the Western has been my local hospital since I was a child and listening to the anecdotes of the staff who worked there has made me realise how little I knew about the hospital and the work conducted there. In particular, I was interested in hearing about the work of Polish doctors during WW2 in the Paderewski hospital. I had not realised there was such strong links between Poland and the Edinburgh University Medical School, or indeed the Western General. There was an entire Polish school of medicine established in 1941 at Edinburgh University, which taught over 336 students out of the Paderewski wing at the Western General. Although the school closed in 1949, its legacy will continue to be discussed and re-discovered (as I did) throughout the future.