I’m Farhana Islam, Access to Archives Intern with Lothian Health Services Archive. I have one week left of my one-month placement and I’d like to start off this blog by saying thank you to everyone at LHSA and the CRC team for being so welcoming and supportive, including Laura Beattie, Louise Neilson and Ruth Honeybone. A special thanks to Louise Williams, my mentor/ supervisor over the past month; she was so patient with me while I got used to the new software, and extremely helpful in answering all the questions and queries I had. Before beginning the internship however, I questioned the potential of engagement with a team who lived and operated in another country, but Louise and Laura made Scotland feel like a ten-minute drive (from London); and the wider team through their various talks and presentations have made me really excited to visit the CRC and LHSA to meet everyone and explore the facilities in person (once things go back to normal).
My two main tasks were to input existing catalogues onto the ArchivesSpace software, and create catalogues and transcriptions for oral history recordings relating to Edinburgh’s HIV and AIDs epidemic in the late 1980s. During my first two weeks, I enjoyed developing my skills on the ArchivesSpace software and had the satisfaction of watching roots develop in to trees, and noticing myself become more fluent on the site. Listening to, cataloguing and transcribing oral histories was definitely my favourite, I feel as though I’ve found my calling! As an avid listener of podcasts and audio-books, It was like listening to a really interesting historical podcast, and then being able to contribute towards its preservation; simply magical!
In addition to learning a lot from these tasks, I learnt an immense amount from merely speaking and listening to members of CRC who are all so enthusiastic about what they do. In particular Emily Hick’s Sacred Objects project and the ‘Meet the Conservator’ livestream which was so informative and interesting. [I believe a recorded version can be found online].
The work I have contributed towards has made me appreciate the strenuous nature of archiving and preservation so much more. From the attention to detail required during cataloguing, to the patience and methodical approach to recording and then transcribing oral histories and of course making it accessible to the public. It is so easy to overlook the several hours of effort behind the preservation of photos, historical documents, images, artefacts, oral history recordings and archives in general.
The image on the right is an example of one of the applications which can be used to make cataloguing and transcribing oral history easier. ExpressScribe, in its most basic form, is a transcription software which allows users to upload recordings and adjust audio clips and provides a space for transcribing as you listen.
In the oral history interview with Jacqui Mok, Helen Zealley describes creating books for children who were affected by HIV. ‘It’s Clinic Day’ (GD22/14/1/62) aimed to normalise the experiences of the children who might have been distressed by regular hospital appointments, home visits, and all sorts of medical examinations. As much as this information moved me, it was so refreshing to learn of the efforts made on the part of healthcare professionals in the 1980s in helping not only treat those clinically affected by the virus, but taking time out to care for the children’s emotional wellbeing. LHSA’s preservation of the historical fight against HIV and AIDS has definitely put things in to perspective about the effort that goes in to caring for people with a virus which, to this day, carries the burden of societal stigma.
Working from Home
I’ve seen quite a few (pre-Covid) blogs posting picturesque images of the view from the University of Edinburgh/CRC, so here’s my attempt at displaying my internship workspace. One of the perks of working from home is, you get to have spontaneous mini snowmen competitions with your siblings at lunchtime.
Virtually exploring the Qit’at- i- Khushkhatt....
As it was a virtual internship, I explored the archives and special collections online. Cameras are notorious for not being able to capture the real beauty of things in front of us, but these scriptures, calligraphy and art pieces were absolutely breath-taking, even on a screen. I thought I’d include them in my blog because seeing them made me really excited and I admittedly spent way too long staring at each of them, trying to read the Arabic.
You can view images of the Qit’at- i- Khushkhatt here: https://bit.ly/3pXVTV8
Family History Preservation
My mum recently discovered my grandad’s passport and immigration document, which was so exciting for my family, but the pages were wearing away. Luckily, I had the help of Ruth, who suggested the best methods of preservation for these specific documents. I am really excited to begin my own preservation project for the future generations of my family. It was such a privilege to have the expert opinions of archivists, conservators and curators at my finger-tips.
All in all…
I’ve come away from the internship, excited for a career in archives. I’ve been exposed to several different avenues within the heritage sector, and look forward to continuing my journey in preservation. I have enrolled as a volunteer onto an oral history project (which I begin next week), called the ‘Tape Letters Project’; looking at the unusual method of communication used by working class Pakistani migrants, who recorded cassettes for their families to listen to in Pakistan. Oral history, here I come! I feel truly grateful to have had the chance to work with such crucial, historical information and would like to thank everyone at LHSA for making me feel so welcome and included in the preservation of Lothian’s history.