Friday, 18 August 2017

A poetic patient

In this week's blog, Archivist Louise looks at hospitals from a different angle...

The current BBC series, Trust Me, follows staff nurse Cath Hardacre from Sheffield to Edinburgh. Suspended for whistle-blowing down in Yorkshire, she seizes a chance for a new life when a job is advertised working for 'South Lothian NHS Trust' at the 'Southern General Hospital' (some death certificates actually do state this institution, which was possibly an early twentieth century name for the infirmary at Glenlockhart poorhouse). The only snag is, the post is for an A&E doctor, not a nurse - but Cath's doctor friend Ally has just left Sheffield for New Zealand, fortuitously leaving her CV prominently in the bin. Cath plucks the document out, watches a few YouTube videos, applies for the Edinburgh job under Ally's name and is soon enough installed in a very nice flat with a view of Arthur's Seat. After all, being a doctor in A&E can't be too hard, can it??

The series, filmed right here at the University (you can see the Library where LHSA is based in this week's trailer), made me think about the portrayal of hospitals by artists and writers. I've recently become aware of William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), for example, who was a patient of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) in the 1870s. Born in Gloucester, Henley developed tuberculosis as a child, leading to his left leg being amputated below the knee when he was just 16. In young adulthood, he started to write, but the tuberculosis infection returned when he was 23, and he was faced with amputation of his other leg. In a last-ditch attempt to save his leg, he traveled to Edinburgh, where he'd heard that a doctor called Joseph Lister was making great strides with aseptic surgery. Lister accepted him as a patient on a Reserved Ward of the RIE, where Henley stayed from August 1873 to May 1875, undergoing an operation that scraped out the dead bone from his infected leg, which was then packed with lint soaked in carbolic. Whilst Henley slowly recovered, he had plenty of time to write, including these lines on Lister himself:

"His brow spreads large and placid, and his eye,
Is deep and bright, with steady looks that still.
Soft lines of tranquil thought his face fulfil -
His face at once benign and proud and shy."

From A Surgeon, later The Chief)

A young Joseph Lister (sitting, centre) when a trainee doctor in the Infirmary, 1854 (LHSA photograph collection)

Henley wrote 28 poems in all during his time in the RIE; some first published in The Cornhill Magazine as Hospital Outlines: Sketches and Portraits. The poems also give a view of the other patients around Henley ('Through the loud emptiness and airy gloom,/A small, strange child, so old and yet so young!/Her little arm besplinted and beslung,/Precedes me gravely to the waiting room.'), nursing staff in the process of professionalization ('Her plain print gown, prim cap and bright steel chain/Look out of place on her'), and the general atmosphere of the hospital ('A square squat room that stinks of dust and drugs'). However, unfortunately we only have a very scant record of Henley's time in hospital in our records, with only one page of the Infirmary register filled in for his line, out of the usual two:

Henley's original admission record from 24th August, 1873 (third down). The second page of the register, which records information about medical condition and discharge date. is blank (LHB1/126/39)
One Infirmary patient mentioned in Henley's poems was 'John Gallagher', who 'Fell, some eighteen months ago/Smashing his shin'. No 1870s' case notes survive in the archive - however, from Henley's description, we get an idea of Gallagher's character that we just could not glean from institutional records:

"He like a collier swears, prays like a child,
Roars like a bison, laughs like something wild,
And makes us all like, pity, and despise him."

From A Patient 

According to his biography, Henley also went on to marry Anna Boyle, whom he'd met when she was visiting her elder brother, who occupied the next bed to Henley. Captain Boyle was in the merchant navy, son of Edward Boyle. The only Boyle I found mentioned in our records coinciding with Henley's time in hospital who could match the description was this gentleman:

Admission for an Edward Boyle, 'master mariner', admitted on 2 March 1874, bottom line (LHB1/126/40).
Henley's hospital stay inspired more new relationships - his poems prompted a visit by Robert Louis Stevenson, with Henley becoming the inspiration for Long John Silver. Henley remained a prolific writer until his death in 1903, and his obituary was even published in The Lancet, which praised the accuracy of his descriptions of general hospital life. His view of the sights, sounds and personalities of the Infirmary might not be widely known, but they provide a precious patient perspective into a changing world of hospital care:

"This is a ward in hospital. You see
The Field where Science battles with Disease,
And Hope - sweet Hope - succumbs to Death alone."

From The Ward

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Cockenzie Mystery - more insights from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital

We continue our journey into the Royal Edinburgh Hospital case books with our second volunteer blog. This one is from Carmen, a first year history student at the University of Edinburgh.

Since I began volunteering for Lothian Health Service Archives in April of this year, I have discovered a whole new perspective of eighteenth-century psychiatric treatment. Having the opportunity to access the Royal Edinburgh Hospital records has allowed me to have a glimpse of the lives of those who needed said treatment, and also the attitudes towards them.

When I first started cataloguing the volumes I was looking at mostly pauper patients – those whose treatment was funded by their parish – and I really resonated with many of those who found themselves suffering from mental illnesses. There was one patient in particular who stood out to me as she had lost 4 children within the space of a year because of diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid. I remember thinking that any person would find themselves mentally vulnerable if they had lost so many loved ones in such a short period of time. There were also other records of other women who had been admitted because they had symptoms of what we today would diagnose as postpartum depression. By just looking at these records, it is clear that we have come a long way in terms of both diagnosing and understanding mental health problems. 

Since finishing my first volume, I have now moved onto one of the Hospital’s volumes that was specifically for private patients. What is most interesting about this volume is that because these patients were paying significant sums of money for their treatment, the doctors were more likely to include information about their personality. For example, it was said that one patient was “the most generous of men” and was known for buying magazines and newspapers for everyone in the ward. Others were not described so kindly, with one being labelled as “a moody, taciturn old man” who entertained himself by scribbling on any pieces of paper he could find; and another “sullen” for refusing to speak to any doctor but Dr Clouston, the director of the entire hospital. Another patient was admitted because she had “delusions” that she had been seduced when she was young - whether this was actually a “delusion” or not is questionable. Information like this is invaluable in helping historians understand the lives of those who suffered from mental health issues in a time where knowledge on the subject was limited. If not for these insights from contemporary doctors, we would not know what the people who were treated at these hospitals were really like.

Another interesting discovery I had when looking at these volumes was the fact that many of these patients seemed to go to “Cockenzie” for several weeks at a time, and little else of the place is mentioned. When I brought this up to Alice, the Archive’s Access Officer, she suggested that the patients may have had something like a holiday home - as Cockenzie is by the coast – and may have gone there to get into the open air and get a break from the city. If this is true, this is fascinating as it shows that Clouston could put another of his theories into practice. Dr Clouston was a strong believer that people had to have a positive environment in order to have a positive mind, and he tried to ensure that his patients lived in the best conditions possible because of this. Since volunteering at the archives, I have been fortunate enough to also read several of Clouston’s published works, including one in which he explains that his inspiration for the asylum layout came from a luxurious Swiss hotel. However, as the volume I am cataloguing has not been looked at in much detail yet, the archivists here at LHSA still know little about Cockenzie and what that actually meant for the patients at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Nevertheless, that is one of the best things about working in archives and handling contemporary material: we may never know what Cockenzie actually was, but by looking at the records we have in our collection, we do know that it existed and was of some significance to the daily life of the hospital.

Overall, I have loved every minute of volunteering at the LHSA Archives and think it is fantastic that the University offers its students the opportunity to look at the wealth of material that they have in their collection. I have been able to learn even more about the city that I now live in and love, all the while gaining invaluable skills that will prepare me for my dream job in the heritage sector. 


One of our wonderful Twitter followers has unraveled this mystery for us! Kirsty Nicol (@Kirsty_Nicol) dug into census records for Cockenzie and found a property called Hawthorn Villa, with residents who gave their occupations as Medical Students and one Asylum Matron. She then checked this information against digitised map collections held at the National Library of Scotland, and found that Hawthorn Villa was a property on the Western edge of Cockenzie. This certainly seems like a likely candidate for a convalescent-type home!

Many, many thanks to Kirsty for her outstanding detective work – and what a fabulous example of the benefits of digitising collections!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The dangers of tea-drinking: highlights from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital

We're handing over to our volunteers over the next two weeks to hear a little more about the Royal Edinburgh Hospital case book indexing project they've been working on. Starting us off is Iona, who recently graduated with a first-class history degree from the University of Edinburgh. 

Since April I have been helping with the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Case Book indexing project to create a database of patients admitted between 1840 and 1932.  Every week I work on my own volume detailing the cases of women admitted from the late 1850s. I have gleaned amazing details of what these women’s lives were like across social strata within the wider framework of Victorian attitudes towards medicine and gender. Every case illuminates the perception of women’s greater susceptibility to different forms of ‘mania’, many related to life-cycles of puberty, menstruation, childbirth, menopause, and old age.

Working through the case entries, I am very aware of looking at a top-down source; the female patients are viewed through the prism of the medical institution and the men that run it. At times, it is almost as if I am reading a novel with unreliable narrators, trying to prise the text apart to catch a glimpse of the patients’ point of view. Despite this limitation, many stories are harrowing, dramatic, even amusing, with a strong sense of each woman’s individual character. This interplay between the patients’ experiences, the narratives of the medical men, and my own subjective interpretations is fascinating, a unique way of bringing history alive.

The index to casebook volume 13
The intertwining of morality and medicine pervades the volume, from the formulaic language describing patients’ everyday behaviour as ‘industrious’ or ‘slovenly’ to diagnoses of ‘moral insanity’. The unsettling combination of familiarity and strangeness in the way that the doctors evaluate their patients is highly compelling. Through my modern lens, it seems straightforward to identify symptoms of alcoholism, post-partum depression, and the simple need for people to receive more care as they get older. The doctors’ assessment of these cases range from comparatively up-to-date understandings to the down-right odd, my favourite example being the condemnation of dissipation through excessive tea-drinking.

The following are my highlights from my case book volume. I have chosen just a few examples to demonstrate some of the themes I have found particularly interesting during my time at LHSA.

Work, work, work
Each entry makes some reference to the patient’s occupation and class, revealing the social roles of women at the time. The entries often identify patients by their husband’s profession, such as brewer’s wife or sailor’s widow, and if employed are most often domestic servants or seamstresses. I have found tantalising exceptions among these common entries, such as Clara the London stage-dancer and Helen the map-colourist.

In addition, cases like that of 26-year-old Christina reveal contemporary wariness of female education and ambition. Her ‘acute mania’ was caused by ‘something which had excited her beyond ordinary’, which turns out to be ‘the study of composition’ and her attempt to write a novel. This diagnosis connects Christina to many women of the later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century whose literary energies were medicalised in connection to their mental health. Two of the most famous examples of this are Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who both wrote about the frustrations of their medical treatment. In 1882, the Royal Hospital’s own Dr Clouston gave a lecture entitled ‘Female Education from a Medical Point of View’, which demonstrates the widespread disapproval of these developments. He states that new school curricula have ‘warped the woman’s nature, and stunted some of her most characteristic qualities’, not only to the detriment of the female population but to the health of the nation itself. In this way, Christina’s case and Clouston’s lecture hint at how women’s bodies became ideological battlegrounds over medical practice and appropriate gender roles.

Medicine and moral sensibility
The doctors’ descriptions of their patients’ cases frequently act as moral commentaries on their way of life and their place in society. I came across one woman called Mary Ann who used the name Jane as an alias; this factor and her diagnosis of ‘moral insanity’ perhaps hints at a criminal past. Although the previously-mentioned Clara is ‘naturally of a cheerful disposition and steady industrious habits’, the entry notes that ‘employment as a dancer on the stage might not be considered advantageous for this development.’

Instances of alcoholism elicited condemnation as a manifestation of both physical and moral degradation. In another lecture given at the University of Edinburgh, Clouston describes women as more predisposed towards alcohol abuse because they possess ‘less resistive power’, as well as the ‘nervous disturbances incidental to the female sex and to motherhood, and the climacteric period.’ The case of a woman called Flora with an ‘inclination for stimulants’ caused a great deal of trouble for the Hospital as the staff debated over her treatment. After escaping to go drinking, Flora was investigated by the Board of Lunacy and examined by several doctors. When contacted, her family requested that she remain at the Hospital because she was ‘quite unable to keep from drinking and from disgracing herself and them by her conduct’. The Board released Flora, however, because when sober she was ‘not at present a lunatic in the statutory sense and therefore however doubtful they may be as to the manner in which [she] may comport herself when free from control they have no alternative but to order her discharge.’
As the previous cases show, most often the entries convey the attitudes of the hospital staff, yet some details display the strong moral compass of the patients’ themselves. Helen was engaged to a ‘respectable young man’ but ‘began to entertain fears that…he was not a Christian.’ This led her to postpone the marriage but ‘the delay of her lover in assuming the Christian character threw her into a deep melancholy.’ Interestingly, her postponed marriage also led Helen to ‘adopt the idea of going as a missionary to the Indians.’ I like to think that perhaps her work as a map-colourist encouraged her desire to travel as well as her deep religious sensibilities.

The cup that cheers and inebriates
One of the most bizarre attributed causes of mania I have found in my casebook is the effect of excessive tea-drinking. For example, another patient called Christina sought refuge ‘in the inordinate imbibition of tea, which she takes in the form of a strong decoction several times a day’, a good summary of my own tea habit.

LHB7/51/13 - when tea drinking becomes a threat to health...
The case of Joan, a dressmaker from Glasgow, also hints at a class dimension that may have influenced the doctors’ attitudes towards her tea consumption. The record states: ‘She has led a very unhealthy life, having subsisted like many of her class almost entirely on tea taken at every mealtime and seldom supplemented by more than bread and butter, and the occasional salt herring.’ Like Christina, Joan’s ‘indulgence in tea seems in her case to have amounted to dissipation, leaving her, after the stimulant effects pass off, in a state of considerable depression.’

As with alcoholism, the risks of tea were linked to women’s natural weakness and susceptibility. This is also suggested by an article entitled ‘The dangers of tea drinking’ by a Dr J E Cooney published in the Windsor Magazine in 1895. Cooney writes: ‘Warm tea-drinking is very popular with women, and is quite an institution in this country. It is drunk at all hours – even before rising in the morning – but the climax is reached at about 4pm. Many, in the course of paying their afternoon calls, drink no less than a dozen cups of tea…that one is naturally left in astonishment of the depravity of their sense of taste, without contemplating the terrible consequent ravages their respective constitutions must inevitably undergo.’ To me, Cooney’s focus on women’s daily social rituals conveys a sense of uneasy disdain not just for tea drinking but for codes of female behaviour in general. This is heightened by the next paragraph, evoking the image of a deviant female cult: ‘Tea-water worship, carried on by its fair devotees in the prettiest of drawing-rooms, in the smartest of tea-gowns, with the daintiest of paraphernalia in the form of silver and china, may to a large extent disarm them as to the real nature of this insidious but implacable fiend, but nevertheless it is there.’ The article further reinforces the dangers of this ‘implacable fiend’ through its illustrations, which juxtapose rough men drinking from bottles on the street with well-dressed women before trays and teacups. Although this connection of tea with ill-health and morality is funny with hindsight, it provides a fascinating example of how medical attitudes could be bound up with ideas of class and gender.

This blog has been only a small taster of the remarkable stories of women admitted to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in the nineteenth-century. My attitudes towards history have been greatly enriched by this experience; I have thought much harder about the many filters that lie between the past and present, and about my own subjectivity as a researcher. I encourage anybody interested to volunteer with LHSA for the privilege of spending time with these fractured but powerful voices of history.


J E Cooney, ‘The dangers of tea drinking’, The Windsor Magazine 2 (1895), pp. 218-22,

Friday, 21 July 2017

Medical Records Revived!

In this week's post, Archivist Louise talks about a very special event taking place today...

This afternoon, we'll be launching the results of our neurosurgery cataloguing project. Not only are we celebrating by holding a public launch, but a case note catalogue will be released online. We've been cataloguing case notes from Edinburgh neurosurgeon Norman Dott since autumn 2012 with funds from the Wellcome Trust and, although we've had some pauses along the way (as staff have changed), it's wonderful to see the effort of all those involved in the project realised. The project could not have been completed without the hard work of cataloguing archivists, staff from LHSA and the Centre For Research Collections, interns, volunteers, University staff, project advisors and the help of the Wellcome Trust Research Resources team.

Cataloguing Norman Dott's Neurosurgical Case Notes (1920-1960) has produced a public, online catalogue to Dott's case notes (which hides patient identities in these mostly-confidential records) and a full catalogue, which includes identifying details and can only be seen in the LHSA reading room by legitimate researchers with special permissions from NHS Lothian. It's the first time that medical case files have been catalogued like this in a UK medical archive (in fact, I can't find a precedent anywhere else in the world!).

The Dott case notes are particularly special to me because I started my LHSA career as the Project Archivist cataloguing them. With the help of a Project Steering Group and LHSA staff, I was tasked with developing a methodology to catalogue the cases as well as doing the actual cataloguing- so deciding what would be recorded in a catalogue entry, how the entry would be structured, and how long it would take to describe each case note. I remember how overwhelmed I felt looking at the cases for the first time in the University Collections Facility - shelves filled floor to ceiling with blue boxes! Not only did the sheer number of records seem scary at first, but the case notes were written in very specialised medical language, with clinical abbreviations and terminologies from more than half a century ago!

Do you understand what this means? I didn't when I started cataloguing....
However, after getting to grips with the cases, I developed a way of describing them that conveyed their key content in language that could not risk identifying patients, whilst using 'labels' to mark details for redaction that we wanted to record but couldn't be revealed to the general public (like patient names, for example). After this, cataloguing began in earnest...

Although I  became Archivist at LHSA in early 2014, I went on to supervise the day-to-day work of the project, so I've been lucky enough to be 'working with' Norman Dott for nearly five years now! My job lately has involved redacting the 28,000+ catalogue entries so colleagues in the CRC Archives and Learning and Development teams can work on developing a web presence for the catalogue.

So I'll be sad to say goodbye to Norman Dott, who's been a bit of an obsession for five years (I try to diagnose neurological conditions on TV medical documentaries, it's gone that far..), but over-the-moon to see the catalogue online for the first time! 

You can try the catalogue for yourself here. We're also cataloguing case notes from other specialisms (including our tuberculosis and diseases of the chest case notes), which will appear on the site as catalogues are completed and redacted.

Friday, 14 July 2017

'Even finding an envelope takes so long...'

This week's blog is from Kim, our Employ.ed intern, who gives us an insight into letters from our Ernst Levin collection that make difficult reading:

It’s Kim again, the Employ.ed on Campus intern working with LHSA on Ernst Levin’s personal archive. Last week marked the mid-way point for my internship here in the CRC, which has made me feel somewhat nostalgic, it feels like I started yesterday! In the last five weeks, I have made incredible finds in the uncatalogued mountains of correspondence, particularly in relation to the themes of German-Jewish immigration and refugee history. Over the first few weeks, once I had got to grips with the general outline of Ernst’s story, I identified areas of interest in the collection worth closer inspection. Often this was a series of letters or correspondence of particular value, such as the letters sent between Ernst and his daughter whilst he was interned as an ‘alien’ on the Isle of Man in 1940. I have now almost completed the process of drafting these various ‘narratives of interest’ into blog posts which will constitute my final outreach resource. Hopefully, this will generate some interest in the collection to secure the funding it so greatly deserves. Keep following LHSA's blog and social media for the address of the final resource!

Wartime letter to Ernst, who was interned on the Isle of Man in 1940 (GD8/2)
This week has been very busy with exciting events: the University of Edinburgh hosted the British Association of Jewish Studies ‘Jews on the Move’ conference from Monday to Wednesday, with expert speakers on the subject of Jewish history, immigration and refugees, which supplemented my research into Jewish History as a context for this collection.

The following is an example extract of the kind of content which will feature on the resource I'm compiling about Ernst. Below is a series of letters written to Anicuta Levin, Ernst’s wife, by an old friend called Grete Vester, who was struggling to survive in war-torn Munich in the immediate aftermath of WWII from 1946-47.
Anicuta Levin, c. 1930s (PG8)
 At the end of the Second World War, with the Nazi’s defeat, the three major allied powers entered Germany from different fronts. German civilians, especially women, faced the wrath of victorious allied forces: horrifying stories of rapes across Berlin abound. The Russians liberated Berlin from the East, whilst the British moved through France. Munich, the Levins’ home prior to emigration, was a US occupied zone, as evidenced by the censorship stamps on the letters Anicuta received from an old friend Grete Vester. 
Censor's stamp on a letter from Grete, 1946 (GD8/2)
Germany entered a period of extreme economic devastation and hardship, and the people suffered under the extreme war reparations claimed in compensation for the horror of the Holocaust. Trials were held across the country to punish ex-Nazi officials and purge Nazism from society: this process, as Grete writes, was called ‘Entnazifierung’ [de-nazification].

A series of letters from Grete Vester in Munich, with envelopes marked ‘American Zone’, and stamped with ‘U.S. Civil Censorship’ were sent to Anicuta Levin in Edinburgh between summer 1946 and 1947. These embittered letters from the Levins’ old friend show the extent of damage to war-torn Munich and the suffering of Germans in the extreme economic hardship of 1946 and 1947. Grete Vester, identified as one of the ‘old group’ of Munich friends in which Anicuta and Ernst socialised, is described by her sister Marla as having had three strokes throughout the course of the war.

This series of letters touches on the major theme of German post-war identity – Grete expresses extreme anxieties around being deemed a Nazi by ex-neighbours and friends who had fled Germany due to persecution. She ardently claims that she was not a collaborator and in an angst-ridden tone bemoans the fate of German ‘innocents’. She describes post-war Germany as a ‘living hell’: the embittered people are murdering each other like savages. On several occasions, Grete expresses suicidal thoughts, reflecting the unbearably desolate circumstances in the ruins of central Europe.

Typewritten letters from Grete (GD8/2)
4th April 1946:
“After six years of never-ending bad luck and abandonment, I am now writing to you full of hope and joy … in 1939 I had the bad luck to have a stroke and have been paralysed in my left side since then, although I can move again now, though with difficulty. In this state I spent the war, although I was evacuated to [Bad] Aibling. Now I am back in war-torn Munich, which you would barely recognise. Through the wretchedness, everywhere you look the people have become mean and embittered. The only thing I now long for is death. Kluger of course left me a long time ago, married a woman and had a child with her, though they are divorced already now. Obviously he already has someone else, because men always fare better in this matter”
“Oh, Anicuta, what did we live through! … I actually barely know what I should write, it cannot be expressed in words! … I would love to come and stay with you, and help with the housework”

(undated) April 1946:
“For God’s sake stay where you are! Don’t even consider trying to alleviate your homesickness for Germany! … I, a nazi-hater, as you know, should actually have a say in their [the Nazis] punishment! But the so-called ‘entnazifizierung’ [‘de-nazification’] is in someone else’s hands completely. Even us, the blameless, are suffering! I truly marvel at the fact that I didn’t end up in a concentration camp because of my big mouth [anti-Nazi discourse]. I guess that’s luck, or bad luck, however you might see it now”

16th August 1946:
“The letters which I so undeservedly receive from abroad are like balsam on my wounds … I was evacuated to Bad Aibling after a heavy attack on Munich … in the bomb shelter, everybody was drinking and flirting … they wanted to live their last hours with courage, or at least in the spirit of gallows humour … the basement doors flew open and the sounds of the bombs exploded in my ears and I waited for the end to come at any moment. But it passed, as you can see … When the Americans came, we were glad”

19th August 1946:
“I am constantly completely alone, at best Marla stops by with a cold face and the oft-used words “I don’t have much time, will need to leave in a few minutes””
Writes that her sister Marla tends to her out of a sense of duty, but there is no compassion or kindness behind it. Sadly she is reliant on her sister for vital supplies. Grete pleads with Anicuta not to mention her complaints in her reply as Marla reads through her letters.

5th October 1946:
“I am living with complete strangers, not good or bad, just very uninteresting and also uninterested in me, we were just stuffed in here by the housing department, regardless of what you want. Otherwise you have to sleep in the street. The room is tiny, 2.5 – 4.5 metres, so I can’t put my few possessions anywhere … You cannot imagine what the city looks like now … I only get visitors when I have cigarettes and coffee from my American parcels”
[speaking of an old friend she has corresponded with] “Sadly I get the feeling that she holds us all in contempt, even me, who was anything but a Nazi. This hurts me as I cannot be to blame for being German, and cannot change this”
“The Unolds are somewhere in the countryside. Did you know Grete’s sister, Mrs Keis? She died and recently her son was murdered and robbed on a train. These things happen often these days. This is what desperation does. It doesn’t make people better. No one dares to walk the streets after dark, especially not women”

11th October 1946:
“I have been wanting to write to you about how I live, because I think this isn’t uninteresting to you. I think that all of you who left Germany, have no idea how it is here. Firstly, there is the devastation of the ‘luftkrieg’ [air raids], which is indescribable, although some people say that Munich is gold in comparison to some cities like Frankfurt [hit more intensely] … I need cod-liver oil and vitamin C. Of course you cannot get these in Germany, so I’ve written to New York and Switzerland and have received some already. We’ve had this appalling food for years and Hitler had been giving us low-quality food since 1933.”
“The atmosphere among the people is indescribable. It is as though one were among savages, no it is worse, since savages probably have na├»ve qualities that make them worthy of being alive … even the so-called ‘qualified’ people leave a lot to be desired. The whole of Germany has been completely ruined by the Nazireich”
[Grete asks Anicuta repeatedly not to be angry at her for requesting so many times that she join them in Scotland.]

2nd November 1946:
“As you can see, I am already writing on your new paper. Yesterday your package arrived. I thank you warmly and am so happy that at least this worry is alleviated. Sadly the package had been broken into and the typewriter ribbon was stolen out of it. But we are used to these things now … the ribbon clearly showed through the wrapping and someone decided to steal it. Here, people take everything. The people are so poor, that even an old cloth isn’t safe, if it can still be used to clean things with. Hitler left us a great country and through desperation, the people have not improved, but the opposite. This is the reason I can hardly bear it here anymore. Do you understand? … Even finding an envelope takes so long, because you have to go into many shops before you finally have the luck to find one or two”

17th November 1946:
“Today I have a big favour to ask you. In Edinburgh there is surely a phonebook for London, where you can find an address which I don’t have here. It’s the address of Dr Philip Hochschild, who emigrated there. He is a very wealthy man, and could I please ask you to write to him explaining my situation and asking him to help me a bit. I was often with him in the time of the Hitlerreich and so he knows, that I wasn’t a Nazi, which means he might be prepared to help me, considering my illness. From abroad, you can send a care-package through the Red Cross … [pleads Anicuta not to think worse of her because of this request] … we are starving and freezing. We don’t have access to the most basic amenities. Often we don’t have any light because the electricity goes. Then we also can’t cook anything, because we don’t have enough gas or fuel. We don’t even have any candles and not enough matches!”

26th December 1946:
“I received your long-awaited letter yesterday. It was truly the most wonderful Christmas gift. Hopefully it won’t just be a seasonal occurrence … letters are my only joy, and I receive them so rarely. So please don’t be so sparing! Remember than I am alone and lonely. Maybe then it will be easier for you to write more often”
“I am interested to see what we still have to live through, before life is over for us. Sometimes I think, I must have been a real piece of work in a past life, to have deserved such a punishment … no one laughs here anymore, at best cynically, which isn’t so nice”
“There are still Jew-haters here, Hitler really created long-lasting effects. It is awful. Us Germans are really suffering from this, even if one wasn’t a Nazi. And I think that won’t ever change, at least in my lifetime”

13th January 1947:
“My dear Anicuta, I thank you warmly for your last letter from the 18th December. I think I have already answered it, but am not completely sure, as I think of you almost all day long and therefore no longer know, whether I wrote to you or just meant to and thought of you intensely. I am alone for days on end. Marla often doesn’t come for a week, because as she says she has no time. And I sit here in my lonely room with hardly any wood to burn and a great sense of fear … Life is nightmarishly hard. I never dreamed that things would turn out this way. Maybe you can tell, that I don’t want to be alive anymore. But I am scared of death too. Do you understand this? There are also other things which I can’t write about. It would be such a joy if I could see you again … don’t be angry that I’m starting with all this again, because I really do think this would be the only thing that could save me now”

27th February 1947:
“You can hardly imagine what wretched lives we must lead now, even us, who were never Nazis! … You know, of course, what I thought [of the Nazi regime] and how I often opened my mouth to speak against them, even though I was spared the concentration camps. Even in Bad Aibling, where my hatred of the Nazis was well known! It seems disgraceful to have to re-iterate this to you, who knows all of this so well! But when one reads and hears how so many Nazis are trying to wash themselves clean [of their crimes], one thinks, perhaps even friends like you might believe this of me”

15th September 1947:

“I hardly dare to ask, if I couldn’t come to you [in Scotland], you seem to stall which makes me very unsure. Please don’t be offended, but just say yes or no. It is awful in Germany. You can only get medicine in very extreme cases, and life is horrible”

Friday, 7 July 2017

Not at all sketchy! Volunteering with LHSA

In common with other colleagues in the Centre for Research Collections, LHSA hosts volunteer placements and paid internships throughout the year. As in many other professions, gaining practical experience is a vital gateway into careers in the heritage sector, and our placements aim to help those at various stages: from those who've never really been 'behind-the-scenes' in an archive before to aspiring new professionals seeking their first paid experience to build up a specialist CV. Vannis Jones is one of our volunteers, and comes in for one morning a week. In her final year of an Art History & French degree here at the University, Vannis approached us last year with a view to gaining the experience she needed for a place on a professional qualification in archives after graduation. In her blog, she talks about the material she's been working with recently, from a medical business (literally) very close to home for us here at LHSA:

Hi there, I’m Vannis and I have been volunteering with LHSA since January. Having recently received a conditional offer of a place in the University of Glasgow’s MSc programme in Information Management and Preservation (largely thanks to LHSA!), this placement has given me a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in the archives sector that I have no doubt will be immensely useful during my studies in Glasgow! I have now catalogued three small collections during my time here, the largest of which, pertaining to J. Gardner & Son, Surgical Instrument Manufacturers, I would love to share with you today.

The collection primarily consists of sketchbooks and loose sketches of surgical instruments and artificial limbs (and the occasional, and seemingly rather random, veterinary instruments...) produced by J. Gardner & Son from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. J Gardner & Son opened just across the road from the University in Forrest Road, where the pub, Doctors, is now. The sketches often detail not only measurements and other forming specifications for the instruments, but also frequently the hospital, ward, and doctor who commissioned them. The majority of these commissions came from doctors and hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but some are from as far afield as Carlisle or even Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis!

One of the biggest challenges in working with this collection was not actually the content - thankfully almost all instruments were labelled in the sketches, and any that weren’t I was generally able to identify using my trusty illustrated copy of J. Gardner & Son’s 1913 catalogue - but rather the condition of the materials. Large parts of the collection have clearly been saved from a fire at some point, as a number of pages are singed and crumbly at the edges, covered with a thin layer of ash. This fragility, combined with the fact most of the sketches have been folded for decades, means the sketches are heavily creased and the pages fall apart and rip easily - it’s going to be a bit of a challenge for the conservation team to get them ready for the reading room! A secondary issue is the dirty, dirty hands you walk away with after handling the collection. Old graphite and ash from a long-forgotten fire are not the best of combinations…
This sketch of trephine forceps from 1910 encapsulates almost all the conservation issues this collection has to offer—creases, detached bits of paper, singed edges (particularly at the top), and accumulated dirt on the page (GD47/1/7)

Having just completed my undergraduate degree in History of Art, I was also able to look at this collection through an art historical lens, and I grew to appreciate the strengths of the different artists employed to sketch at J. Gardner & Son. One of their most prolific designers was someone I have been able to identify as ‘T. Weir’, whose sketches often bordered on art. T.W. generally put a decent amount of effort into making his sketches not only extremely precise and detailed, but also aesthetically pleasing, and at times, beautiful. You would think that this accuracy and attention to detail would be common amongst all surgical instrument designers, but there was at least one J. Gardner & Son designer who was decidedly not particularly artistically inclined! (Incidentally, he never chose to sign his work.)
Dissector and probe image, caption: A beautifully clear and precise sketch of a dissector and probe by my new favourite 20th century artist, T. Weir. 1910 (GD47/1/7).
Our only hope is that the final form of this detachable bronchoscope was not quite as wobbly our anonymous designer has depicted… (GD47/1/7)
As someone with absolutely no legitimate knowledge of surgical instruments or their usage, I did at times come across instruments with rather comical names—comical to a layperson, at least. The vast majority of the instruments were run-of-the-mill types like forceps, knives, scissors, probes, and the like. However, I would from time to time come across strange instruments such as a ‘special scalpel’ or a ‘pad for heating kidney’. Far and away my favourite oddity I have found in the collection, however, is the intestine crusher. Now, this was one of those instances where you read the name of the instrument, and assume you’re having some sort of palaeography issue. But no, the handwriting is quite clear—it’s an intestine crusher. This instrument in particular sticks out in my mind because while a number of the instruments in the collection sound unpleasant (‘brain knives’ come to mind), it is at least possible to imagine that they could serve some sort of beneficial medical purpose. Nothing about ‘intestine crusher’ says ‘tool of healing.’ A quick Google search returns results related primarily to meatpacking, an unlikely use of the J. Gardner & Son instrument, so perhaps we may never know its purpose. After all, I am no doctor…

 The infamous intestine crusher (and one of the few sketches in ink!) - GD47/1/7
Overall this has been a really fascinating collection to work with, and has presented a wide variety of challenges that I am sure have prepared me well for many more archive-based projects in my future. It has been really interesting to broaden my personal horizons by working with materials that deal with matters outside of my area of expertise, but that were also somehow familiar in that a number of the sketches were in some ways like pieces of art. I certainly look forward to many more exciting projects at LHSA, and more opportunities to facilitate the public’s access to our rich and diverse collections!

I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that Vannis finished her History of Art & French degree with First Class Honours and graduated this week! You can find out more about volunteer and internship projects in the Centre for Research Collections here.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Let’s talk about…SEX

This week, Project Cataloguing Archivist Clair talks about what she's been finding in her case note collection...

As has been mentioned in previous blogs I am working as part of the wider University Collections Facility rationalisation project to continue cataloguing work on some of LHSA’s case note collections. In particular, these are sexual dysfunction case notes from the Gynaecological Out-Patient Department at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) which date from 1973 – 1994. We have around 1249 individual patient case notes from this period, and I have had the opportunity to learn from this primary source about the types of medical conditions and treatments that these patients experienced. This is an important collection because it is a very different medical specialism in comparison to other case note collections that have already been catalogued at LHSA. The case notes come from a more modern period and are structured slightly differently, which is reflected in their content. The circumstances relating to sexual dysfunction were often a combination of physical and psychological conditions and required a different medical approach.

The history of sex and sexuality is an area in which I have done a little studying before, but reading through the case notes has given me another perspective of both sexuality within a medical context and the relationship between sexual activity and physical and psychological health. Gaining insight into any topic relating to sex is interesting because of its importance to the human existence, being such a natural part of the human condition, yet historically the freedom to discuss sex and sexuality has been inhibited by values and beliefs through the ages. Although the sexual dysfunction case note collection covers a relatively late period, they give us a snapshot about how discussions surrounding sex and sexual identities are constantly evolving. In reading the case notes, I have reflected on my visit to the ‘Institute of Sexology’ exhibition at the Wellcome Library in 2015, which revealed a vast and varied selection of archival material, art, film and artefacts tracing the evolution of the way in which sex is studied. The exhibition showcased the work of many key sexologists including Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes and Alfred Kinsey and showed how they lifted sexual taboos, developed a legitimate area of study and created a place for sexual health within mainstream clinical practice. Although the exhibition is finished, here is a short film of what was a fascinating tour.
Throughout the period reflected in the case notes (1973-1994), there are a broad range of issues addressed at the sexual dysfunction clinic. Many common medical conditions (for example, dyspareunia - pain during intercourse - or erectile dysfunction) were documented, and could often be treated successfully with a course of sexual therapy, drug treatment or, frequently for women, a minor gynaecological surgical procedure. However, the case notes also demonstrate that many sexual problems faced by patients manifested within the context of sexual relationships. Common sexual issues could be directly related to stressful relationships, living conditions and occupations, as well as ignorance or fear of sexual feelings. Some of the content of the case notes was upsetting to read because some of the patients had gone through traumatic experiences. Moreover, social attitudes towards sexuality or lack of sex education was sadly a common factor for many patients that came for help, who feared that they were sexually 'deviant', or risked being stigmatised because of their ‘unconventional’ sexual feelings.
Sexual problems categorised as a ‘dysfunction’, including frigidity, sexual unresponsiveness, loss of libido and orgasm disorders, were regarded as symptoms of emotional, psychological and personality disorder and thus were often treated thorough a course of sexual/marital/couples or individual therapy. Each patient visiting the clinic presented their own set of very personal and specific problems, so it is difficult to generalise or pick out cases that are representative of many. However, below are redacted extracts from two of the case notes that provide an indication of the complexity and array of deep-rooted issues experienced by patients.
PR1.552 (1)
PR1.552(2) These extracts come from the same file and show how attitudes towards sex and sexual feelings can be established from an early age and the way it was often seen as a taboo subject. Negative connotations of sexual activity as wrong or dirty appear as problems for many patients amongst the case notes. Bad feelings about sex often inhibited patients to form loving, healthy sexual relationships.   

PR1.555 This extract reveals the difficulties that some patients faced surrounding sexuality and gender identity.
 Patients were often referred by their GP or could make a direct appointment to be seen by one of the specialist at the sexual dysfunction clinic, based within the Gynaecological Out-Patient Department at the RIE. Key figures in the Department were Dr John Bancroft, Psychiatrist, and Philip Myerscough, Consultant Gynaecologist. Although I have struggled to find out more about Myerscough and his career, it appears that after Bancroft’s time in Edinburgh he became Director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University. His research and work can be found spans many titles, including Human Sexuality and its Problems (1983). From a quick skim of this book, one can see reflections of his working practice and ideology seen in the case notes. Although it is often recorded that patients were too embarrassed to attend their appointment at the clinic or came in secrecy for fear of others finding out, the progressive nature of physicians such as Bancroft and Myerscough made many patients feel at ease. In his book Bancroft describes the feelings that many patients have which contribute to their sexual problems, including anxiety, anger, insecurity, guilt and low self-esteem. This level of understanding of all factors that affecting patients and his impartial approaches are revealed in the case notes, particularly when treatment programs or courses were tailored to meet specific patient needs.

Cataloguing these case notes using a similar methodology to other LHSA case note cataloguing projects has been really interesting because of the trends that can be spotted over time and the impressions that can be gained about a particular topic. Dr Gayle Davis, Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, used the sexual dysfunction case notes before they were catalogued for her research into the medical response to infertility in late 20th century Scotland. Therefore, we already know that there is an interest in using this primary source material and we can aid research by creating catalogues as a better way in to the collection. We hope that the way in which the case notes are described in the catalogue will help to highlight other potential areas of interest to the research community. The case notes can be explored without revealing anything biographical or medical which could identify those who were treated - this is not only important because of the information legislation surrounding health records, but also due to their sensitive subject matter.
This catalogue will go further in making our growing collections on sexual health, gender and sexuality accessible - collections that cover women's health and activism, reproductive health, LGBTQ+ health, HIV and AIDS awareness and the treatment of venereal disease.