By Ruth Honeybone, Manager of the Lothian Health Archives
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 (https://healtharchives.co.uk/). 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…?
Clare Button, Project Archivist, University of Edinburgh
Today, Edinburgh is world-renowned as a centre for animal genetics and genomics. This history stretches back over a century, and has left a rich documentary record. Over the past four years, Edinburgh University Library Special Collections has received two large grants as well as a scoping and digitisation grant, all under the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources scheme, to preserve, catalogue and make available this important heritage.
I started as Project Archivist in 2012 with the project ‘Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics.’ Since then, the work of this and related projects has encompassed a variety of activities: book and archive cataloguing, conservation, digitisation, public engagement, oral histories, an exhibition and academic research.
The earliest archival collection relates to James Cossar Ewart, professor of natural history at the University from 1882 to 1927, who was instrumental in establishing genetics as a subject at the University. He is most famous for carrying out cross-breeding experiments on zebras, of which there are some fascinating photographs. The most recent collection is the records of the Roslin Institute, who hit world news with the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996. And it’s not all just about the science: the collections also comprise artwork, a record of scientists singing comedy genetics songs, photographs of social events, a vintage microscope and even wooden signs from buildings! These collections tell the story of how genetics has diversified over the last century, from large-scale and long-running animal breeding experiments and perilous work with mustard gas, to modern-day cloning, stem cells and biotechnology. Since the projects began we have continued to receive donations from scientists and their families, which has expanded our collections from the original 9 to 23 (and counting).
In addition to the archives, we also hold an array of published scientific papers and some outstanding rare books originally from Roslin’s library, the earliest of which dates from 1573! These papers and books were catalogued by the project’s Rare Book Cataloguer, Kristy Davis, as were a collection of 3,500 glass photographic slides dating from the late 19th to early 20th century. This collection depicts not only different breeds of livestock but also people and scenes from around the world (our favourite is a picture of a man riding a llama). This fragile collection received conservation treatment, as did a number of rare books and archival items, and in 2014 the slides were also digitised to further facilitate access. All the slides are now available to view online at http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/UoEgal~6~6.
At first I was daunted that my lack of genetics knowledge would make cataloguing difficult. However, we were lucky to have support from two academic advisers, Steve Sturdy (Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge, University of Edinburgh) and Grahame Bulfield (former director of Roslin and Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Edinburgh). Steve and Grahame helped decipher laboratory notebooks, identify people and places and introduced us to useful contacts. This said, being immersed in the collections for so long has improved my scientific vocabulary, and I’m pleased to say I now know my DNA from my Drosophila…
We’ve worked hard to engage the research community with these rich collections by presenting at conferences, networking at University events and maintaining a blog (http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/towardsdolly/). However, it has also been valuable to engage with the public about the collections and the stories they tell. At events like the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Doors Open Day and talks at local history societies, people often express a real sense of local pride in Dolly and surprise at the diversity of genetics research in Edinburgh’s history. Probably our most successful piece of engagement was the exhibition ‘Towards Dolly: a century of animal genetics in Edinburgh’, which ran in the Main Library from July to October 2015. This featured an array of material from our collections as well as items on loan from scientific institutions (including DNA models, stem cell artwork and the microscope used to clone Dolly) and, of course, Dolly the sheep herself from National Museums Scotland. Dolly is a hugely popular exhibit, and the exhibition received our highest ever visitor figures as well as a proliferation of ‘Dolly selfies’! You can see some of the exhibits here: https://exhibitions.ed.ac.uk/search/*:*/Exhibition:%22towards+dolly%7C%7C%7CTowards+Dolly%22
As comprehensive as the collections appear to be, there are inevitably gaps in the records. With the help of Grahame Bulfield, we carried out a series of oral history recordings with ten contemporary scientists involved in genetics and genomics, one of whom had begun work as a scientist in the 1940s. These recordings, which we plan to make available online in the future, are full of personal anecdotes, reminiscences and valuable information which are not always captured in paper records.
After working so closely with this material for a number of years, it was hard to leave it behind once the projects came to an end. I was therefore delighted to receive a Research Bursary from the Wellcome Trust, which is currently enabling me to carry out academic research on the collections I have catalogued, as well as to visit other genetics collections which have received Wellcome Trust funding. From this research I hope to produce a journal article about the early history of animal genetics in Edinburgh, as well as continuing to engage with our academic and public audiences about these diverse collections. Dolly lives on!
Bookings will close on the 24th October but those wishing to book are advised to do so soon as space may be limited.
The conference will take place on Friday 4th November at the AK Bell Library in Perth and this year takes the theme: Public Healthcare in Scotland before the NHS.
On the day, a wide range of speakers will be joining us to discuss their experiences of using archival records to research aspects of the provision of healthcare in Scotland in the 19th and early centuries.
Ross McGregor (Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow );
Dr Lindsay Reid (Researcher, Scottish Midwifery History);
Emeritus Professor John Stewart (Glasgow Caledonian University);
Dr Patricia Whatley (University of Dundee)
The conference will be chaired by Professor Marguerite Dupree (Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Glasgow).
We anticipate that this event will be of interest to archivists and records managers as well as specialists in the field of medical records and those with an interest in Scottish social history more generally.
We very much hope that you will be able to join us for what promises to be an extremely interesting and enjoyable day.
Boots Archive have recently received funding from the Wellcome Trust to help develop its collections through The Wellcome’s Research Resources Grants Fund. On 7th October there will be a chance to hear more about Boots Archive’s experience and the Fund in general. This is an excellent opportunity for business archives to find out more about the opportunities offered by the Wellcome Foundation for projects to increase access to material which has a link to wellbeing or health in its widest form.
The programme is as follows:
10.30 – Introduction and plan for the session – Sophie Clapp, Boots Archive
10. 45 – Intro to Research Resources Scheme (and initial questions) – Chris Hassan, Wellcome Trust
11. 15 – Boots: why we wanted to transform our service, approach taken & learnings – Boots Archive, SC
11.45 – Boots: Rediscovering the Boots Archive -project delivery, decisions taken & learnings – Hannah Jenkinson, Boots Archive
12.15 – LUNCH
1.00 – Tour of Wellcome – Ross MacFarlane, Wellcome Library
1.30 – Dr Richard Hornsey, History Department, University of Nottingham: Providing an insight into the researcher’s experience
2.00 – Boots: Assessing the benefits and next steps – Judith Wright, Boots Archive
2.30 – Coffee
2.45 – Q&A panel session – Boots team, Dr Richard Hornsey and Chris Hassan
3.15 – Finish
The meeting will take place in the Burroughs Room at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre. Lunch and refreshments throughout the day will be provided.
To book please contact Sophie Clapp at firstname.lastname@example.org