Friday, 24 July 2015

Recording oral histories (part 2) and the end of Iain's secondment...

On 12th August Iain Phillips’ secondment at LHSA comes to an end. He updates us on what he has been up to since his last blog post.

Recording oral histories – Part 2

My last post detailed the preparations for my first oral history recording with a nurse whose work had relevance to our HIV/AIDS collections. I also mentioned that have been inspired to run a short oral history project in the John Lewis Edinburgh store where I work

The two oral history projects
I have started recording for both projects in LHSA and John Lewis Edinburgh and, although they require the same skills, the final use of the recordings will be quite different. This highlights the many uses that oral histories have.
The recordings stored with LHSA will be under strict control of the archivist, where access will be limited to allow research and, if requested by the interviewee, some may have their access restricted for a requested length of time. This is understandable due to the subject being discussed - you may get a more frank discussion if the interviewee knows there is a time limit before the recording will be released.
In contrast, the intention for the project in John Lewis Edinburgh is to share the Partners’ stories immediately through a website so both current working Partners and the general public can listen to these. The recordings will also be deposited with the John Lewis Heritage Centre.

My first LHSA recording
In formulating the questions for my first oral history recording I did a little research. I accessed documents from the Lothian Regional AIDS Team (GD24) collection which had correspondence, meeting notes and various drafts of the proposal for the project my interviewee was involved in. I felt this provided me with more confidence to talk about a project that I originally knew very little about and also inspired questions that I would not necessarily have thought of. As this was successful for my first interview, I will be doing similar research for my second interview with someone who has experience with providing pastoral care for those affected by HIV.
Before booking a room, I consulted with Clare Button, Project Archivist on the Towards Dolly project, who had some experience with oral histories. One of her tips was to use the sound-proofed video conference room in the George Square Library. This, partnered with the background noise reduction feature on the voice recorder, meant the recording was clear and required no post recording editing to remove background noise.

When it came to recording the interview, the time flew by. To set the scene, the interviewee and I were sitting at a table, face to face, with the sound recorder sitting between us. I had a page full of questions and topics to cover sitting in front of me and I went through the agreement and copyright form with the interviewee. I then pressed record and introduced the recording - this helps an archivist and any listeners understand what the recording is. My page of questions and topics were spent after about 20 minutes. It went a lot quicker than I expected but everything I wanted to discuss was covered in the recording. The interviewee then signed the agreement after the recording. It was then time to catalogue and transcribe the recording.

Cataloguing and Transcription

Following some further training from Louise on creating catalogue entries and transcription I got started on creating two documents: a catalogue entry that summarises the important points and timings of the recording and a transcription which records the interview word for word.

The catalogue entry was relatively straightforward since I adapted a template that Louise provided. I listened to the recording the whole way through, marking the time and the general topic discussed at these points. Important information about the whole length of the recording and the format it is held in was also added.

The transcription document was a lot more time-consuming. In my training, Louise had shared the fact that some oral histories may take seven times the length of the recording to transcribe them, and there does not appear to be a piece of software that can do it accurately enough yet! Essential, for me, was the software package Express Scribe by NCH. This allowed me to slow the speed of the recording to half the normal speed, and also used the function buttons on my keyboard to pause and play. The big advantage of using the function buttons was that I did not need to exit the Microsoft Word document I was typing in, saving me a lot of time. The transcription took about a day to complete and I think I will get faster as I do more.
Iain transcribing his first oral history interview...

The next LHSA recording
Listening to my first recording there are a few other things that I have learnt to take to the next one. There were a huge number of ‘ums’ in my first recordings when I was asking questions. That should be easy to fix, I just need to understand that pausing is natural and try not to fill it with ‘ums’!
Keep an ear out for jargon and acronyms. There was one acronym that slipped by me during the first interview and without clarifying it during the interview I needed to add a key on the transcription.
Leaving a legacy

The first two recordings I am doing for LHSA is creating a framework to allow the LHSA team to continue adding recordings of personal stories to add context to existing HIV/AIDS paper and object collections held at LHSA. The intention is to continue to interview retired policy makers, retired healthcare personnel, staff working in charities to support those affected by HIV in Edinburgh and the Lothians and possibly service-users of those charities. This project is ongoing and would have been much more difficult to get off the ground without the support the John Lewis Golden Jubilee Trust secondment paying for me to work at LHSA for two days a week for 24 weeks.

Thank you

I would like to thank all of those within LHSA and the Centre for Research Collections who have welcomed me and made me feel part of the team. Thank you also to my team back in John Lewis who have supported me in this. I particularly would like to thank my supervisor Louise at LHSA who has taken a lot of time to support me in this secondment and has given me the opportunity to make an important contribution to preserving the history of a city I both love to live and work in. Finally, this secondment would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support from the John Lewis Edinburgh Communities Liaison Coordinator, Judith.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Deterioration of X-rays

X-rays were originally produced on glass plates using a photographic emulsion. X-ray sheet film was first developed by Kodak in 1913 and used a thick nitrate base. This was followed with film made with two sides coated in nitrate in 1918. Nitrate film was found to be flammable, which led to the development of “safety” film, made from an acetate base, by Kodak in 1924. From the 1950s onwards polyester was mainly used to make X-rays as it is a more stable material. Today, X-rays are made and stored in a digital format and can be printed out on film or paper if needed. 

X-ray of a pair of feet
The X-rays found in LHSA’s collections are a valuable source of information, however, the nature of their material composition means that they will, inevitably, degrade over time. As cellulose nitrate deteriorates it emits a strong odour, discolours to an amber colour, and becomes sticky and brittle.
Degraded X-ray on Cellulose Nitrate
As acetate film degrades it emits a vinegar smell caused by the release of acetic acid. This is known as "vinegar syndrome", which also has the potential to cause damage to paper-based collections held in close proximity. Once deterioration begins, the chemical process becomes autocatalytic, meaning that degradation will take place at a faster and faster rate. When the film degrades, the base shrinks, and the emulsion starts to separate from the base and begins to crack. The film becomes brittle and eventually shrivels or buckles distorting the image beyond use. 
Degraded X-ray on Cellulose Acetate
Due to these problems, it was decided to separate the X-rays from the rest of the collection. A comprehensive digitisation programme was carried out to capture the information held, and these images were cross-referenced with case histories that accompany them. Because of the risk cellulose nitrate film poses in an emergency situation such as fire, the limited number of originals on this type of film base will be safely destroyed. The X-rays on cellulose acetate will be placed in to frozen storage to slow down the rate of deterioration. Read all about how we do this in the next LHSA conservation blog!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Neurosurgery after the days of Dott

In this week’s blog Project Cataloguing Archivist, Clair looks at the foundations laid by Norman Dott for the future of Neurosurgery…

The process of cataloguing Professor Norman Dott’s Neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960) has made me think about the wider history of Neurosurgery from its foundations, to the way in which it is practiced now. Sticking to the Edinburgh context, I decided to find out a bit about how Neurosurgery developed after the days of Dott and how his legacy paved the way for the future of the medical science.

Photograph of Professor Norman Dott. LHB1 CC24-PR1.1536
Around ninety years ago Dott began working with the great Harvey Cushing, motivating Dott’s enthusiasm for neurosurgery and his approach in specialising in this area of medicine. From there the foundations of neurosurgery in Edinburgh had been made, with Dott opening up the first dedicated neurosurgical ward in Scotland, in 1938, at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE). Now with the facilities to practice this medical specialism, Dott made an incredible impact on the development of surgical neurology. He undertook major work in intracranial operations, pioneering surgeries throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was one of the founders and presidents of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons.  In his later years this prestigious career continued when Dott developed a new Department of Surgical Neurology at the Western General Hospital (WGH) in the early 1960s (more information about this development can be found in a past blog post here). Although he retired in 1963 this unit was a lasting testimony from Dott to the future of Neurosurgery.
Photograph from a promotional brochure for the Department of Surgical Neurology (WHG) showing the operating theatre. LHB11/7/2
The development of the neurosurgical unit at the WGH meant that the second half of the twentieth century saw neuroradiology, neuroanesthesia, neuropathology, clinical neurophysiology and neuropsychology all being practiced in one purpose built site. When Dott retired he was replaced by Professor John Gillingham, who had worked as a consultant neurosurgeon under Dott’s directorship. Gillingham’s career, undoubtedly influenced by Dott, saw him make international contributions to the neurosurgical treatment of movement diseases such as Parkinsonism, and in his work with spinal and head injury patients, he became a campaigner for legislating the use of seatbelts in cars. Two other neurosurgeons, who trained under Dott, include Phillip Harris and John Shaw. Harris also went on to specialise in spinal trauma, whilst Shaw played an important role in the recognition of paediatric neurosurgery as a separate medical specialism.
By the 1980s many of the neurosurgeons appointed by Dott were beginning to retire, including Gillingham, Shaw and Harris and also Kate Herman and Sneddon Watson. The face of surgical neurology in Edinburgh was also beginning to change and by the late 1980s the Surgical Neurology Department at the WGH merged with the University of Edinburgh department of Medical Neurology in 1986 forming a new Department of Clinical Neurosciences, with a physical merge at the WGH in 1989. Combining surgical practice and medical research made way for advances in neuroscience technology, particularly in imaging services, facilitating the use of MIR (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning technology in the department. 
Moving into the 1990s saw major changes for NHS administration and financial difficulties for Lothian Health Board (LHB). However, the Department of Clinical Neurosciences continued to develop, building an intensive care unit so that all severe head injury patients could be admitted to the Department at the WGH. Today the Department of Clinical Neurosciences still operates in the WHG, with ten Consultant Neurosurgeons, 48 beds throughout 3 wards, serving a population of 800,000 across Lothian, Fife and Southern Scotland.
From the days of Dott it has been interesting to chart the developments in neurosurgery and the strong links that his remarkable career has had to the future of the medical science and treatment of neurological conditions. From the pioneering work that came from those influenced by Dott’s work and training, to the neurosurgical departments and facilities that he established, neurosurgery continues to develop in Edinburgh today.
Miller, J.D. & Steers, A.J.  (July 1996). Surgical Neurology and Clinical Neurosciences in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neurosurgery. 39 (1), 151-159.
Managed Service Network Neurosurgery. 2015. Managed Service Network Neurosurgery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 July 15].

Friday, 3 July 2015

Summer of.. Well, research, really!

It’s been busy in the last few weeks in the Centre for Research Collections reading room. This week, Archivist Louise looks at what LHSA readers have been up to...

It (finally!) seems to be summer time again. You’d think that the sun would signal a quiet time in university archives – most of the students are on their summer breaks and genealogists’ thoughts are perhaps turning more to the lilo than lineage…. However, judging by the last few weeks at LHSA, that’s not at all the case!
Summer time means that academics are released from their teaching and finally have some time to do their research and postgraduates enjoy the relative quiet of the campus outside semester time. They’re certainly doing that in the Centre for Research Collections reading room, with this past week rarely seeing a spare table on the sixth floor. LHSA readers, for example, are researching control of infectious disease in the early twentieth century, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century fever medicine, child psychiatry, public health policy in Edinburgh and the relationship between physicians and patients at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
To this end, we’ve been searching out items from the stores, including items from our fascinating City of Edinburgh public health collection:

LHB16/2/31 – extract from the 1930 Annual Report of the Public Health Department of the City of Edinburgh

We’ve been finding copies of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital magazine, the Morningside Mirror, for a postgraduate researcher looking at the relationship between doctors and patients at the institution:

Pages from the Morningside Mirror (LHB7/13/5)

And we’re going to search out our oldest Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh case notes for our visitor researching early fever medicine….

Page from a volume from physician John Gregory, documenting cases from 1771 - 1772 (GD1/66)
… as well as polishing our collection of brass plaques to help another researcher to investigate the history of modern infectious disease nursing:

Bed plaque from LHSA hospital plaque collection (Q86)

In addition to these wider topics, academic researchers have also been looking more closely at individual lives. One reader found a trace of a literary academic and intelligence corps. officer as a patient in Craigleith Military Hospital during the First World War, and another searched inside the papers of the Edinburgh Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick for a mention of ballads donated by James Bertram to Walter Scott and William Laidlaw:

Letter from William Bertram to his brother James (1801) that helped to shed new light on one reader's research (GD10/13/7). William Bertram left a bequest in his will to the Edinburgh Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick, which accounts for his papers' presence in our collections.
The breadth of the research taking place this summer is a reminder that the archives that we hold are relevant to academics from a wide spectrum of disciplines, not only in the history of medicine – showing how medicine and its institutions were an integral part of both individual life histories and larger social and cultural currents.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Looking back at my time at LHSA...

Yesterday, Stephen, our Archive Assistant, left us for pastures new to work with the CRC user services team. We wish Stephen all the best in his new role and although we'll miss him, we know that he'll only be upstairs on the sixth floor! In this week's blog, Stephen reflects on his last eight years working in the LHSA team...

As I bid farewell to LHSA after eight years as the archive assistant I present a snapshot of the wide variety of different tasks I have done in this role. When I first started in May 2007, my duties were focussed on re-ordering over 200,000 of LHSA’s case notes and producing handlists for each collection. Once this was completed, handlists were written for case note collections already in the correct order as well (another 800,000 case notes) and finally a case note database was created condensing the information from these tasks, considerably increasing the accessibility of these records. The image shows a page of an unusual case note from 1910 found in the Alexander Miles collection with a hand drawing of the operation in progress:

Alexander Miles case note, from Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh case note collection  (LHB1 CC)

As well as core duties of collecting items for readers at the library, helping with transit of material between the LHSA’s storage locations at the Main Library and the Library Annexe in South Gyle, and supporting the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections, I have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of the LHSA’s collections.

I have scanned and produced a catalogue of 3600 of LHSA’s 35mm slides, re-housed over 6000 glass plate negatives, catalogued boxes of photographs and listed LHSA’s departmental files. The image shows a 35mm slide of the entrance to the Accident and Emergency Department at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in approximately 1900.
Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Accident and Emergency Department, c. 1900 (LHSA slide collection, Case 66.2)
Digitisation and photography have been a regular part of my duties and I have photographed many of the fascinating objects accessioned by the archive for the objects database, such as this beautiful nursing badge from Leith Hospital:

Leith Hospital nursing badge (LHSA object collection, O472)
Also more recently I have bookscanned the first seven volumes of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital newscuttings books.
Occasionally I have been asked to perform some more unusual tasks. I helped to set up shelves in the archive stores wearing a hard hat in 2008 and earlier this year, I helped bag and dispose of confidential anatomy department records after their appraisal in the basement of the McEwan Hall prior to its refurbishment. So, all in all it has been a very busy but enjoyable and worthwhile time here. I look forward to the new and different challenges in my next role.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Helping to bring out your inner archivist (or conservator)!

We say goodbye to our fantastic intern, Aline, today. She’s spent the last ten weeks with the LHSA team, and they’ve flown by! Although Aline’s time was focused on our case note cataloguing project, we made sure she got lots of other, more general, experience to help her future career in the archive sector. Here’s Aline giving a presentation yesterday, where she told Centre for Research Collections colleagues what she had learnt during her internship. If you follow us on Facebook, you might recognise this picture from yesterday’s post!

Whenever one of our internships comes to an end, we take stock and look at what worked and what didn’t, so that we can make the next internship we offer even better. I’m pleased to say Aline had lots of positive things to say about the programme we organised for her, and about the kind of teaching and guidance we provided for someone interested in learning more about the principles that govern archival and conservation activity.
In the last week Louise and I have had a couple of interesting opportunities to offer that kind of teaching and guidance in different settings. Louise stayed close to home, taking part in a workshop as part of the European Association for Health Information and Libraries conference held in Edinburgh. This was organised in collaboration with the International Conference for Animal Health Information Specialists and the International Clinical Librarian Conference. It’s an international event and around 250 delegates attended. The Centre for Research Collections offered a workshop to help librarians and information professionals get to grips with what it means to be an archivist, and how archive collections can be used for research in the health-related subject areas the delegates are interested in. I was in London, at the British Library, teaching part of the ‘Essential Preservation’ course offered in partnership with West Dean College. I gave an introduction to best practice handling and storage of special collections, some background to writing a preservation policy and then a bit of guidance on how to communicate conservation activity and where sources of information and help might be found. While the main aim of a session like this is to help those new to the preservation of rare/unique collections, it’s also a great chance for me to promote LHSA and our services and reflect on our own practices, often through some challenging questions posed by those attending!  

Ruth Honeybone, LHSA Manager 


Friday, 12 June 2015

Treating prisoners of war

The weeks have flown by, and we're coming up to the end of Aline's internship cataloguing the Second World War neurosurgical case notes of Norman Dott. In her final blog, she reflects on a group of fascinating and unique cases:
The Brain Injuries Unit (BIU) set up by Norman Dott at Bangour General Emergency Service Hospital during the Second World War accommodated service men and women from all around the world, including many soldiers, ATS members and pilots from Poland, the USA, Canada, Australia and even Norway. But Bangour BIU also received soldiers from ‘enemy countries’, that is to say prisoners of war from Germany, Italy and Austria. The case notes can give us a great deal of valuable information about them.

To begin with, a little information about prisoners of war in Britain during the Second World War might be needed to place the case notes into their historical context. After D-Day, when there was no longer a threat of a German invasion on British soil, many German and Austrian prisoners of war were sent to Britain. At the end of the war, there were more than 600 PoW camps in Great Britain, and as many as 400 000 prisoners from Germany. Strong Nazi supporters, including SS members, were sent to remote camps in the Scottish highlands to be put on agricultural work on farms. Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war had to be treated humanely: they were allocated the same food ration as British service men and given access to medical care, which is why some of them were sent to Bangour Hospital. Unfortunately, according to the National Archives, ‘few lists survive of prisoners of war in British hands and there is little documentation which provide biographical information’. This is why any records concerning them, including in the Norman Dott collection, are very valuable.

In the case notes I have been cataloguing as part of the project “Cataloguing Norman Dott's neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)” I have come across 34 prisoners of war - most of them were German, but a few were Italian or Austrian. The last prisoner examined at Bangour was seen at the end of 1947, well after the end of the war: it is not surprising since in Britain the first prisoners of war to be sent home left in 1946, and the last ones in 1949. Each case note gives details about these soldiers’ nationalities, their ages when first examined, their ranks and units in their respective armies, their PoW numbers, their civilian occupations, what they did during the war, and the reasons that brought them to Bangour BIU. Sometimes the PoW camp where they came from is indicated, which is precious information since the documentation about these camps is somewhat limited. Quite logically, the prisoners in Bangour Hospital seem to have come from Scottish camps: two German PoW came from Gosford Camp, Longniddry, in East Lothian, one came from the camp at 123 Dalmahoy, Kirknewton, in West Lothian, and an Italian soldier came from North Hill Camp in Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire.

Example of case note of a German prisoner of war treated at Bangour in 1944. Sensitive personal data has been redacted (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1511)

The records of these enemy soldiers look like any other case notes in the collection, except for the fact that sometimes there aren’t many details about their previous history and family situation. However, it is likely to be due to the language barrier, as shown by this comment about an Italian PoW: ‘this patient has no sufficient English at his disposal to give a satisfactory history’ (PR3.1579). These prisoners seem to have been treated like every other patient, despite the fact that they were ‘the enemy’. We could even go further and say that some of them seemed quite happy about their situation at Bangour, as we can read in several case summaries: ‘This man is most cooperative and apparently glad to be in a British Hospital’ (PR3.1465), ‘he [another PoW] is very pleased with himself and happy and says that he is extremely well off in hospital here’ (PR3.1478). An Italian PoW treated for a prolapsed intervertebral disc even sought to extend his stay: ‘this PoW gives the impression of deliberately not performing well in order most likely to enable him to remain in the hospital where he is quite happy’ (PR3.1310).

As we can learn in the typed case summaries, most of these soldiers were being treated for wounds that happened during battle in France after the Allied invasion, where many of them were captured by British or American soldiers. They were then sent to British hospitals or PoW camps. The case notes sometimes describe fascinating life stories, like the story of this 19 year-old Austrian prisoner of war, ‘an organised social democrat’, who was wounded in Russia and then sent in a military hospital in Austria. But later he was displaced to a hospital in France, where he was captured and sent to Britain (PR3.1510):

Story of a young Austrian prisoner of war before he arrived at Bangour in 1944. (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1510)
Despite the fact that prisoners of war records represent a very small percentage of Bangour BIU case notes, the detailed information they contain represents an invaluable source for genealogists and WW2 specialists.  


The National Archives, Military Records Information 29, Prisoners of war in British hands, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]

German Prisoners of War in Britain, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]