Friday, 23 September 2016

Hosting HARG

LHSA has been a member of the Health Archives and Records Group (HARG) for a long while, and today is the second time in five years that we’ve hosted their AGM. HARG is a group of archivists and records managers with responsibility for health records across the UK that come together a couple of times a year (usually once in London and once somewhere else!) to discuss shared issues and brief each other on changes in legislation and how they will impact on the records in our care. The membership is a bit wider than that though – anyone with an interest in health records and the history of medicine is welcome to join.

We were pleased to invite the group to the Centre for Research Collections for their ‘somewhere else’ meeting this year, and spent a really interesting and informative day with fellow professionals. Much of the discussion was around HARG’s brand new website: how we would like the site to look and what information we want to include to benefit those using it as much as possible ( But it was also a chance to catch-up on others’ news and developments as well as share our own. 

The afternoon concentrated on the Scottish perspective, and the group of us who look after NHS records in Scotland were able to introduce some of our work to ensure compliance with the Public Records (Scotland) Act and a conference we hope to run next year focusing on how NHS archives have been used in artwork and installations in Scottish hospitals to help patients and staff. Our Project Cataloguing Archivist, Aline, also talked about our case note cataloguing projects and there was time for those attending to take a behind the scenes tour and to have a look at our two current exhibitions, both of which draw heavily on the history of health and medicine (see our blog from 19 August for more info if you’d like to see them).

What kind of hosts would we be if we hadn’t made time for some lunch…?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Developing skills for the future...

We've a new member of the LHSA team to introduce on today's blog! Samar has joined us for a year on the Scottish Council on Archive's Skills for the Future Programme:

Hi there, I’m Samar, LHSA’s current trainee! Seeing as I’ll be writing on here quite regularly, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself and let you know a bit about my background. 

I have always had a keen interest in history and heritage, studying Art History and English Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, as well as completing an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Curating and Criticism and at the University of Edinburgh. My academic studies have fuelled my passion for visual and written culture, history, and story-telling, also broadening my understanding of the politics of collection display, development and accessibility.

(left to right) Louise Williams (LHSA Archivist), Me, and Ruth Honeybone (LHSA Manager)
Although my academic background in art history is not unrelated to the field of archiving, it wasn’t until I pursued an internship at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) that I began to truly appreciate the impact that archives have on not only our understanding of the past and present, but on our ability to imagine possible futures. During the internship at GWL, I gained first-hand experience working with an accessible archive that is targeted at diverse communities. I quickly learnt that in collecting materials of women’s history, and running events and exhibitions that centred around these materials, I was not only actively redressing the neglect of women’s historical contributions to Scottish society, but I was also enabling women in the present, especially the most vulnerable and excluded women in society, to access the information that they need to develop their skills, knowledge, and self-confidence. Impassioned by what I had learnt at GWL, I attended a talk at the Feminist Library in London about the digitisation of their Spare Rib magazine collection. I was inspired by the website that was developed for the project, which was produced by the British Library, and features hundreds of issues of the magazine for all to view for free. This was an incredibly exciting prospect to me, because it meant that the Feminist Library’s archive materials could be discovered and accessed by large and diverse audiences that may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

Encouraged by these experiences, I not only wrote my postgraduate dissertation on feminist counter-archival practices, but I also founded an online magazine with my sister Yasmine. My sister and I, who are both dually British and Arab, launched an online magazine on International Women’s Day which exclusively publishes artwork and writing by Arab women ( We created this platform, because we feel that the voices and experiences of Arab women are going largely unarchived. We believe that this is, unfortunately, because we live in a time where traditional archives and the media (both Arab and Western) do not represent us. We chose the name ‘dardishi’ (which is the feminine verb for ‘chitchat’ in Arabic), because the magazine’s formation was largely inspired by all the incredible conversations that my sister and I have had with our female Arab friends and family. The name dardishi also says a lot about the tone of the work that dardishi publishes – informal, conversational work that spurs a wider dialogue on Arab women’s issues. Since its launch, my sister and I have been overwhelmed by the incredible support and enthusiasm that we have had for this project!
Dr. Elsie Inglis in Scottish Women's Hospital uniform (LHB8A/9)
Although my studies and experiences are relevant to the archive sector, they have not equipped me with practical archiving skills. I’m very keen to gain training and experience in the field, so this traineeship at LHSA is the perfect opportunity for me. My 12-month traineeship programme is one of seven Scotland-wide traineeships offered this year as part of the Opening up Scotland’s Archives project. People like me have been chosen to complete these traineeships in an effort to diversify the range of people working in the heritage sector, introduce new skills and perspectives to archival practice, and offer people without traditional archiving qualifications a route into the workforce. I hope that through my work at LHSA, I can put my current knowledge to use, and develop new and exciting skills and experiences in the world of archiving.

I’m keen to gain experience in both collection development and community outreach and engagement, and I can’t wait to work with the rich and varied materials available in LHSA’s holdings. With materials dating from 1594 to the present day, and a collection that includes clinical and non-clinical NHS records and personal papers, a photographic collection of around 40,000 items, as well as older printed books, medical instruments, artworks, silverware and other historically significant objects, I know I won’t be short of exciting collections to explore and catalogue. I actually found my favourite piece of LHSA archive material so far when researching for my interview on this very blog! In Becky’s post about the advice and recommendation of the doctors who worked at the Royal Victoria Dispensary (RVD), she explains that upon being diagnosed with tuberculosis, female patients were advised by doctors to stop going out dancing at night, to reduce excessive tea-drinking, to wear stockings, and to spend less time with their boyfriends!

Examples of recommendations given to female patients who attended the dispensary.

(Clockwise from top L: "To stop smoking and to keep earlier hours - crooning in a dancehall: attending every night except Sundays", "To keep earlier hours", "To stop smoking To be less in the company of the 'boy friend'", "To wear stockings", "To stop smoking + excessive tea-drinking", "To stop smoking To stop dancing at nights".)

I’ve had the chance to start cataloguing some records from this collection myself this week, which has been great! Other collections that I’ve got my eye on exploring is the ‘Bruntsfield Hospital and Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital’ collection, which contains records from hospices and hospitals founded by innovative Scottish women doctors and feminist campaigners, and the ‘Cervical Smear Campaign and Women's Health’ collection, which covers the feminist campaigns that women organised in order to encourage their local heath councils to take a wide-ranging look at factors affecting the mental and physical health of women in Scotland (that didn’t have to do with stockings, dancing or tea-drinking!). I’m thrilled to have been chosen for this opportunity, and I’ve been so excited to come in to the archive every day and work with such a lovely team of people and such an amazing collection of objects. Watch this space to hear about what I’m learning and what boxes I’m delving into!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Something in the air...

Inspired by the current exhibition in the Binks Display Wall on the 6th floor of the Main Library, this week Rebecca takes a closer look at the history of one of the items on display, the inhaler.

Inhalation of smoke and steam from therapeutic plants has been used to treat chest problems since ancient times, but in Britain it really grew in popularity from the nineteenth century. Not all of the inhalations were what we might expect; tobacco and anti-asthma cigarettes including anti-spasmodics such as stramonium were popular cures, despite what we now know about the dangers of smoking with regards to chest diseases, and folk cures for diseases such as whooping cough involved things like holding the head of the infected child in a hole in the ground to breath in the scent of the earth, getting them to breath the air in in gas works or coal mines, or breathing into the mouths of various animals.

A Dr Nelson's inhaler, held in the LHSA Object Collection.
Probably more effective, and certainly more pleasant, than breathing into a frog's mouth!
Inhalers first took off in the 1840s as a means of anaesthesia, using ether or chloroform. Soon, however, they were being used with different substances for the treatment of respiratory conditions, including phthisis (tuberculosis) and asthma. Dr Nelson’s inhaler, launched in the 1860s, is one of the most recognisable examples of the kinds of inhalers which were developed in this period. Boiling water is poured into the bowl of the ceramic inhaler, where it can be blended with soothing and medicinal substances. The resulting vapour is inhaled normally through a glass spout, taking the vapour directly into the lungs. Inhalations were quickly accepted as an effective treatment by the medical community, being formularized in the British Pharmacopoeia in 1867.

In the twentieth century, the ideas behind inhalation were further refined, leading to the clinical development of medicines which could act as bronchodilators and steroids when inhaled, and improved methods of delivering them. The Royal Victoria Dispensary occasionally recommended ‘inhalations’ for patients with breathing difficulties in the first half of the century, showing the continued popularity of this method of treatment. Asthma inhalers as we would recognise them today were first marketed in 1969, after a team led by Scottish pharmacologist Sir David Jack developed salbutamol, a bronchodilator, marketed as Ventolin.
Our inhaler on display as part of the Enhance, Access and Understand exhibition.

We have a Dr Nelson’s inhaler on display as part of an exhibition in the CRC, “Enhance, Access and Understand: The University of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust”, which runs until 31st October. This exhibition celebrates the recent Wellcome Trust Research Resources funded projects undertaken at the Centre for Research Collections, including the RVH v TB and Norman Dott case note cataloguing projects and the HIV/AIDs project at LHSA. A series of talks will accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition is free, and is open Monday – Friday, 9-5 on the 6th floor of the Main Library. The talks are also free to attend. For more information on the exhibition and all of the talks, see

LHSA staff will be delivering two talks: Ruth and Emily will be talking about the conservation of the HIV/AIDs collection on 21st September, and Louise will be giving a presentation about the case note cataloguing projects on the 19th October. It's free to attend, but you'll need to register on Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!


Hand, W.D. (2012) ‘Folk Medical Inhalants in Respiratory Disorders*’, Medical History, 12(2), pp. 153–163. doi: 10.1017/S002572730001303X.
Jackson, M. (2011) ‘“Divine Stramonium”: The Rise and Fall of Smoking for Asthma’, Medical History, 54(2), pp. 171–194. doi: 10.1017/S0025727300000235.
Elisabeth Bennion, Antique Medical Instruments, (1979) (

Friday, 2 September 2016

'Binks sleeps again' - working with the Craigleith Hospital Chronicles

Colin Smith has recently finished an MSc in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh. He began volunteering with LHSA back in October of 2015, and has most recently been working with the Craigleith Hospital Chronicles, a World War One military magazine, printed for injured servicemen who were recuperating from war injuries in Edinburgh. In honour of the one-hundredth anniversary of the First World War, the Lothian Health Services Archive revisibts the Craigleith Chronicles from 1916 in order to record the names of people who regularly contributed to the making of the Chronicles. Many of the contributors were either patients or staff members associated with the 2nd Scottish General Hospital, a local hospital located north of Edinburgh City Centre. This blog post highlights some of the interesting stories that Colin has come across working with the Chronicles.

One of the more lively characters featured in the Craigleith Chronicles was soldier patient, Private Crumplethorne. Written by Lucas Cappe, the Crumplethore series told captivating tales of time on the battlefield. On first glance, his stories seem to be filled with one of courage, bravery, and gallantry-- nothing short of a distinguished serviceman reliving his experiences of time in war! For the more familiar subscriber, especially those who live in the same Ward with Cappe, his stories show signs of a great storyteller who entertained countless staff, fellow soldiers, and first-time listeners of his tales.

'Crump had a large and varied stock of yarns, and he loved spinning them'
[GD28/6/2 - Vol. 3, Issue 16]
More business-like, the Craigleith Chronicles circulated “Hospital Notes” in every subscription. The “Notes” brought readers up to speed with some of the past proceedings of the Hospital. Most of the time, the “Notes” recapped popular events like when distinguished staff members of the armed forces visited the Hospital. Other times the “Notes” updated readers on new building projects such as the construction of the Recreation Hut, gifted to the Hospital by the Red Cross Society in 1916. The “Notes” reported on staff changes too, noting which staff were called overseas for service and who would replace their spot. While the “Notes” wished the best to staff who were departing overseas, some months, it sadly had to bid farewell to friends and family of the Hospital too in “The Roll of Honour” which listed men and women who were killed while serving on the battlefront.

'Miss Ballingall, V.A.D., writes from Alexandria...'
[GD28/6/2 Vol 3, Issue 16]
One of the most enjoyable parts of the Chronicles that I think captures the essence of the staff and soldiers might very well be the drawings sketched by soldier patients for the magazine. One example particularly stands out from the rest: the drawings by Sapper George Bain who sketched a humorous comic strip for the November 1916 issue. The comic strip shows one full day in the life of Private Binks, presumably a fellow patient. From the time Binks came to the Hospital, the comic strip portrays the nightly noises that wake Bink from his sleep. From the geographical discussions on French towns in the wee hours of the night, the RAMC trampling through the loud corridors, the flash-light being shone onto Bink’s face to see if he is sleeping to the mandatory making of the bed by staff early in the morning, the comic strip shows the playful side of a soldier recuperating from his war injuries.

'The "rest cure" of Private Binks R.F'
[GD28/6/3 Vol 4, Issue 22]
On a more personal note, however, I contend the drawings show the endearing comradeship of one soldier to the next. It is this image that I wish to close on in this blogpost. To see how something so small as a hospital magazine played a significant role in the lives of those who served in the First World War is what makes this project so crucial for the one-hundredth anniversary observance.   

LHSA would like thank our wonderful volunteers Colin, Aidan, and Arianna for all their help on this fascinating resource. 


Friday, 26 August 2016

Happy Birthday Professor Dott!

     Today would have been the birthday of the great neurosurgeon Norman Dott, born exactly 119 years ago on the 26th of August 1897 in Colinton, near Edinburgh. His work was crucial to the development of neurosurgery in Scotland; indeed he devised many advanced diagnosis techniques and performed pioneering surgical procedures. Plenty of examples can be found in the c. 28,000 case notes being catalogued under the project “Cataloguing Norman Dott's neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)” – read more about the advancement of the project here. His collection contains a wealth of fascinating case summaries, drawings and photographs; however on this occasion I would like to present the man himself. We already have written about his life, but this article will try to give a glimpse of the man’s admirable character, especially in his relationship with his patients.   

Photograph of Norman Dott. (PR1.1536)

     Norman Dott was a very well-known and appreciated figure in his city. His colleagues recognised the excellence of his work and his patients were proud to have been treated by him. He would often leave a lasting impression on people, and when a biography was tentatively mooted 15 years after his death, countless letters and phone calls from people who had met him in person poured in. Some of the features that stand out the most are his kindness towards his patients and his sincere interest in them. It is clear when one reads his case notes that Norman Dott really sought to know his patients, their work, their family, their fears and their aspirations. He would take the time to explain to them the nature of their conditions, the treatments available to them, or what they could expect in the future. We can quote here the letter of a father who had arranged for his son, who suffered from a ‘slow mental development’, to be seen by Dott through a common friend: 

      ‘Mrs … and I do… deeply appreciate the courtesy and kindness you have shown us in reading and commenting on my notes in spite of the informal manner of the approach to you, for this matter … is naturally one of the gravest anxiety to us’;

     ‘Again with many thanks for your kindly interest which in itself has been of considerable comfort to us’.

     The parents of this little boy were far from the only ones to express their gratitude to Norman Dott: indeed, it is not rare at all to find in the case notes letters sent by the patients to thank him, postcards greeting him for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, or even photographs of themselves or their child in good health after having been treated by him…Some patients would sometimes keep contact for many years. Norman Dott would always find time in his very busy schedule to personally reply to each of them, with kind words and a personalised attention.

Some photographs in Norman Dott case notes are more lighthearted than others...This child was seen by Dott in the late 30s. (PR4.14380)

A New Year card sent by a patient to thank Norman Dott for his care, with a wee poem! (PR2.1968)

     The correspondence and comments found in the case notes depict a man of great talent and of great compassion, determined to fight disease and always concerned for his patients’ well-being on the short and long term. Even when a treatment was unsuccessful, he wasn’t discouraged and always tried to learn from failure. In a letter relating to the case of a man suffering from a malignant astrocytoma who died despite having undergone an operation, he writes: ‘We shall continue to fight the disease that took him away. At present we cannot cure it: but I have lived long enough to see many diseases that appeared irremediable 10 and 20 years ago come with the score of cure. We shall not forget [name of the patient] nor his malady’. (PR4.19968)

Norman Dott was no doubt a remarkable man, both for his talent as a surgeon and for his humanity and kindness. Happy Birthday Mr Dott!


Rush, C., and Shaw, J. (1990) With Sharp Compassion, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, p.176-216.

LHSA collection, LHB1/CC24/PR.2 and LHB1/CC22/CC4 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Exhibiting archives

This week’s blog is a shameless plug for a couple of fabulous exhibitions in Edinburgh University Main Library…

We have not one, but two, displays over the next few months that concentrate on the display of archive collections. It can be difficult to create a visual feast of an exhibition that is based around archival material – so much of it is loose sheet material that there’s often a lot of beige and printed text! But with some high quality collections and lashings of imaginative design we have two stunning exhibitions that showcase collections held here in the Centre for Research Collections.

The first is ‘Godfrey Thomson: the man who tested Scotland’s IQ’, the University’s Fringe Festival exhibition for 2016. Open from Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm (free entry) in the ground floor Exhibition Gallery, this display highlights the life and career of a remarkable man; Thomson was the largest-scale producer of IQ tests in Europe, testing the intelligence of every 11-year-old in Scotland in 1932 and 1947. Professor Ian Deary and his team have gone on to draw on that data to look at how childhood intelligence relates to intelligence and health in old age. Although no LHSA material is in the exhibition, we have been able to contribute to Professor Deary’s research by providing birth weight information for those participants in his Lothian Birth Cohort. For more information about this research please see, and for the details of the exhibition.
Inside 'Godfrey Thomson: the man who tested Scotland's IQ'
The second exhibition is in the Binks Display Wall on the 6th floor of the Main Library. ‘Enhance, Access and Understand: the University of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust’ looks at seven of the Centre for Research Collections’ recent projects funded by the Wellcome’s Research Resources programme. The display shows the diverse nature of the collections whilst also highlighting the specialist archive and conservation skills required to realise the projects. Here you can view examples from our UNESCO-recognised HIV/AIDS collections, and see how storage methods have been devised to meet their long-term preservation needs. Our work to catalogue case notes also features along with the cataloguing of Godfrey Thomson’s own archive, which can been seen in the flesh in the exhibition five floors down! Like the Exhibition Gallery display, it is free but opening times are slightly different: Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm until 31 October.

Two views of the Binks' Display Wall exhibition - featuring Norman Dott on the steps and an early method of treating respiratory disease: a Nelson's Inhaler.
We are running a series of talks alongside ‘Enhance, Access and Understand’. Tickets are free but bookable via Eventbrite. Information on all the talks on offer can be found here:
Hope to see you there!

Friday, 12 August 2016

War hospital women

This week, Louise concludes her series of blogs on the role of women in medicine in our region during the First World War. Her last blog looked at women serving on foreign battlefields, but she has discovered that a posting in one of Edinburgh’s military hospitals brought experiences mentally (and sometimes physically!) far from home too:

For the nursing staff of Scottish military hospitals during the First World War, there were many rude awakenings. For professional, hospital-trained nurses, the influx of casualties must have been a shock, along with the injuries that came as a result of mechanised warfare on a mass scale. Some hospitals specialised in the horrific injuries that trench warfare brought, such as Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers (sited at Pinkieburn, Musselburgh from early 1918). Edenhall developed and made mobility aids onsite - you can see some at the front of this photo:

Patients and staff at Edenhall, c. 1917,(Acc 12/054)
For volunteer nurses drafted in for wartime needs (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses trained by the Red Cross in basic skills – VADs), the comparisons with life before the war must have been even more stark. Not only did most women enter the working world for the first time and lived away from the family home, but they were also exposed to the male-dominated life of the ward, with bodies, blood and bone becoming commonplace sights for them.

But serving in a Scottish military hospital did not necessarily mean seeing out the war on the home front. Having gained experience in caring for soldiers at home, nurses, doctors and orderlies from hospitals around Edinburgh were called to serve abroad. For staff at the 2nd General Hospital, Craigleith, this sometimes meant serving in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in North Africa. Here are Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) nurses and Royal Army Medical Corps members taking time away from duty at the pyramids in Egypt in a photograph sent back to be published in the hospital magazine, the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle:

Craigleith staff in Egypt, 1916 (GD1/82/12)
TFNS nurses were professionally training nursing staff, who volunteered to care for the wartime territorial forces (that is, those who volunteered to fight rather than professional soldiers). I think that that these particular nurses are TFNS nurses (rather than VADs) on account of their uniforms. There’s more on military nursing uniforms on the excellent Scarlet Finders site, here

Camels in Egypt were not just for fun. In 1916, a Scottish medic serving in the military hospitals sent the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle this article:

Article heading, 1917 (GD28/6)
The author mentions the very important transport roles that camels played in military life, and the need for regular rest from the punishing life of a working animal:

“They are being used in thousands as transport to carry food, ammunition etc…Within five minutes walk of my home… there is an enormous rest camp where they get treatment, food and rest…. In the Camp there is a dipping tank like those used in Scotland for dipping sheep…”

The end of the war did not bring respite for the hardworking nurses of the 2nd General Hospital, Craigleith, who were to have one last adventure – sailing from Leith to Danzig to bring back sick and wounded prisoners of war. Again from the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle, we learn that a nursing sister and three staff nurses spent a total of eight weeks on board their ship, the Western Australia, during December 1918 and January 1919:

Article illustration and caption, 1919 (GD28/6)
They witnessed the relief at war’s end, and saw the results of its horrific effects, as this quotation shows – which must have been quite a shock for these middle-class women, even if they were hardened by their military hospital experiences:

“Next day we see Russian prisoners being transferred from barges to ships with Waffenstillstand and Armistice painted on them. We see the Russians scraping the decks and winches with their knives for fat, and eating it.”  Staff-Nurse E D Robertson

The article also mentions events that would shape the world to come. For example, Nurse Robertson reports that different attempts to evacuate British former prisoners of war from Germany were hampered by the start of the 1918 November Revolution (which would eventually lead to the Weimar Republic).

One of the strongest things that you see in the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle is how life must have changed for women as a result of their wartime experiences. We often think of auxiliaries in terms of the Second World War, but this poem shows that women played a crucial support role from 1914 to 1918 for the Army (WAACs), Navy (Wrens) and Women’s Royal Air Force (Penguins  - because they did not fly!):

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle poem, 1918 (GD28/6)
And this advertisement for insurance for the ‘income earning woman’ simply would not have existed before the war:

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle advertisement, 1918 (GD28/6)
The lighthearted humour in the Chronicle also reveals more than it may have originally intended. Times were changing for women just as they were coming into the workplace in great numbers out of the necessity of warfare. This cartoon, although undoubtedly in poor taste, hints at this change, as well as displaying not a little bit of apprehension at a world that looked to be turning upside down. It reads:

"PTE. MURPHY (who is to be kept without food for 24 hours), as Nurse passes him: 'Shure, Nurse, dear, I hope they don't think I'm a Suffragette.' "

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle cartoon, 1918 (GD28/6)ption