Guest Post

Report on the Society for the Social History of Medicine conference, Liverpool, 11-14 July 2018

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I was very pleased to participate in the Society for the Social History of Medicine conference this year, which took place from 11-14 July at Liverpool University. This report will particularly focus on the ways in which researchers discussed accessing and using archival resources, but I wanted to start by saying that the event was extremely well organised, and had a very international and welcoming feel. The standard of the papers was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned a great deal, so many thanks to all the organisers.

This was a very academic conference and by far the largest contingent came from higher education institutions with consumers, rather than custodians, of historical sources presenting the majority of the papers. As you would expect presenters talked a great deal about their use of archives, and referred to, and showed, documents and items including newspaper and magazine cuttings, letters, diaries, photographs, sketches, reports and pamphlets, held in a very wide variety of international archives, in their presentations. Archives were acknowledged and archivists often thanked for their support. It was interesting to see that presenters often displayed photographs alongside details of their Creative Commons licences, suggesting they are enjoying their increased ability to display archive images free of charge.

Researchers most commonly mentioned their use of big, national, UK archives. Kew often came up in connection with Department of Health records, and the British Library was clearly being used a great deal for research involving magazines and newspapers. I sat behind one delegate who was accessing the online catalogues of both these institutions while listening to a paper, trying to locate the sources mentioned and many people acknowledged and welcomed their increased ability to access important collections remotely. Some delegates, including myself and academics from Manchester University working on the NHS at 70 project, also talked of their work developing online archival collections, particularly in the field of oral history. The Wellcome Collection was also commonly cited and thanked as a research funder. Presenters mentioned hospital and university archives less commonly, although they are clearly using these resources. Key note speaker Ruth Richardson, author of ‘Death, Dissection and the Destitute’, spoke of her experience of being locked into St George’s archives as a result of chronic understaffing. There was no one to supervise her while she worked so they simply locked the doors to safeguard the documents.

In a similar vein, interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, many people expressed frustration about the lack of access to certain records, particularly papers relating to clinical matters, and the need for increasingly extensive and complex ethics reviews in order to unlock potentially sensitive material. Researchers commented that their inability to access such records often prevented them from representing the voices of patients in their work. There was some dismay, also, about the ongoing threat to records, even those held in national institutions such as Kew, especially in regard to NHS paperwork which is so copious that it apparently undergoes a regular process of filtering and destruction. People also spoke of records going missing, with one particularly interesting example provided by Hannah Mawdsley, PhD student at Queen Mary University, London, in her presentation on the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic. She traced a box of letters giving first-hand accounts of the pandemic, which should have been in the Imperial War Museum archives, to the attic of the private home of Richard Collier, who originally collected the correspondence, just before house clearers went through the property’s contents.

Image taken from the lecture, ‘The Modern Memory of a Forgotten Pandemic The Centenary of the 1918-19 Influenza’. Courtesy of Hannah Mawdsley.

One fascinating, and more surprising, revelation, was the inability to access, and sometimes even the complete lack of, private sector organisation archives, which should be key sources of information where companies have played a vital role in health related matters. For example it was shocking to hear that international consultancy firm, McKinsey, don’t have an archive at all, a policy designed to protect the privacy of their clients. Academics at Liverpool University described how this had been an issue in their attempts to research the 1974 restructuring of the NHS, and how they had tried to fill the gap in the sources by using duplicates of correspondence in government records and organising witness seminars involving former McKinsey consultants.

The panel that I attended that provided the richest information on potential audiences for medical archives focused on the campaign to secure acknowledgement for the damaging effect of Primados, a hormonal pregnancy test used from the 1950s to 1970s, on the development of foetuses. A journalist, a campaigner, a lawyer and a historian talked about their experiences of trying to access two depositaries, the Landesarchiv in Berlin and the Bayer / Schering Archives which hold the records of the pharmaceutical company that produced the drug, with varying levels of success. Although all researchers reported that the archives in Berlin had been helpful they also mentioned that at both institutions material was available very much at the archivists’ discretion, and that only the historian had had any success in accessing the records at the pharmaceutical company.

Given the nature both of delegates and of the research presented I would have thought that the SSHM conference would be an extremely fruitful event for promoting archival collections with a particular focus on health and medicine. However, with the exception of the Wellcome Collection, which was very well represented, very few archivists were present at the event. It may be useful and beneficial to both researchers and custodians to consider ways to use the conference to promote lesser known collections in future years.

 

Sarah Lowry
Oral History Officer, Royal College of Physicians of London

sarah.lowry@rcplondon.ac.uk

Archives

Medicine and Health in Leeds, 1760-1999: A Cataloguing Project

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Louise Piffero, Archivist (Medical Collections), Leeds University Library Special Collections and Galleries


 

In May 2018, Leeds University Library Special Collections celebrated the completion of a major project to catalogue our medical collections. The two-and-a-half-year project was generously funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant. We’re very pleased to announce that all of the new catalogues are now available online, and the collections themselves can be accessed in our Reading Room.

Over the past 30 months, our small team of a Project Archivist, Project Assistant and Project Conservator have been hard at work cataloguing, digitising and preserving these archives.

We’ve created new catalogues for 13 separate archive collections, adding over 3000 new record descriptions onto our online catalogue. Digitisation has also been a large part of our project. 65 individual manuscripts totalling over 23,000 pages have been digitised and are available to view online.

Conservation needs have varied for the many different types of documents and objects in the collections. Everything has been repackaged into hundreds of standard and bespoke archive boxes and folders. Other items have also been cleaned and undergone minor paper repairs where necessary. 34 manuscripts have received conservation treatment.

The fascinating archives included in the project chart different aspects of the history of medicine and health in Leeds since the 18th century:

  • Firstly, The Leeds General Cemetery Company Archive, which consists of the administrative and burial records for the cemetery dating from its opening in 1835 up until its closure in the 1960s. The 25 burial registers have been digitised and transcribed, and are accessible to search via the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index. The online Index can be used to find details of individuals, but there are also options to browse full lists of all the recorded causes of death and occupations and view graphs of key statistics from the data.
  • The Leeds School of Medicine Archive. The records date right back to its creation in 1831 and up to the present day. The archive is not only made up of administrative material – there are also objects, records relating to individual staff and students, and a series of catalogues for the Pathological Museum.
Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index: Example Entry Page. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library.

 

 

MS 1656: Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers shelf. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library.

 

  • Leeds was a centre for innovation in the fields of renal medicine and urology, and the archives of two surgeons can reveal this history. These are the Leslie Pyrah Archive and the Frank Maudsley Parsons Archive. Pyrah became director of the Medical Research Council Unit in Leeds and set up the first artificial kidney unit in the UK at the LGI. Parsons was head of the unit and performed the first kidney dialysis at the Infirmary in 1956.
  • Casebooks and papers of a number of individual surgeons, many of which have also been digitised. These include William Hey (1736-1819), Sir Berkeley G.A. Moynihan (1865-1936), and Arthur Fergusson McGill (1846-1890). In addition, we have catalogued the papers of Thomas Scattergood (1826-1900), who was the first Dean of the Yorkshire College of Science Medical Department and a forensic toxicologist. Further individual manuscripts have been listed as part of the Medical Manuscripts Collection.
  • The Bragg Family Collection contains the notebook of Sir William Henry Bragg and his son, Sir (William) Lawrence Bragg, detailing experiments made in connection with research on X-rays and the molecular structure of crystals at the University of Leeds in 1913. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.
Leeds School of Medicine Objects After Conservation. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library.

The project has helped us to forge new relationships with academics across the University of Leeds, where we have been able to support research projects, provide student internships, and offer introductory sessions to the medical archives for specific teaching modules. We’ve also been able to showcase lots of the medical collections at different public events, including our monthly Tuesday Treasure event which is held in our Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery.

Even though the project is finished, we will continue to focus on our medical collections. To find out more, check out the Leeds University Library Blog: https://leedsunilibrary.wordpress.com/

Guest Post

Cataloguing North Cambs Hospital

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In this post, Tiff Kirby, archives assistant at the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archives, discusses her experience cataloguing the North Cambridgeshire Hospital records.


North Cambridgeshire Hospital, known as North Cambs, has served the people of Wisbech and North Cambridgeshire for a hundred and forty-four years. It was the initiative of philanthropist Margaret Trafford Southwell, who gave £8000 for the construction of the hospital, and £2000 as an endowment. It functioned as a voluntary hospital, paid for through subscriptions, until it became a General Hospital with the advent of the NHS. The records held at Cambridgeshire Archives span the period from before its construction to the 1990s, and they were catalogued in 2017.

During the record survey, it was evident that stickers surviving on the spine of some of the records, specifically volumes and substantial files, were evidence of a filing system. Unfortunately not enough of these stickers survived to reconstruct this system. To preserve it in an accessible way, the number on the sticker was included in the catalogue description so that this relationship between records was evident. In 1962 a survey of the hospital records was carried out by the then County Archivist. This showed that minutes and reports were kept in the secretary’s office, and patient registers and cash books kept in a nearby cupboard. This appeared to show sequences that, where possible, were followed while cataloguing. But these two systems conflicted. For example, in the 1962 survey, minutes of the Hospital Committee came before any other record, but in the sticker number sequence the first volume of the minutes was numbered 141. Files and other material held in four large boxes showed no apparent order, by chronology, subject, function or department, so original records of the endowment and construction of the hospital were held in a box with records of a time capsule excavation and application for trust status in the 1990s. The structure of the catalogue was based on function, but incorporated elements of original order and sequences wherever possible.

The collection includes the complete minutes of the Hospital Committee for the period North Cambs was a voluntary hospital. The Deed of Trust includes the constitution and provision for four Trustees, who were part of the management committee, along with 8 additional members who had subscribed a guinea a year for at least three years. The Committee met every Tuesday at midday. Details in the records include the purchase of a new chloroform inhaler at the beginning of the twentieth century, preparations for war such as blacking out and the purchase of gas masks, and controversy and opposition to the loss of the Hospital’s independent voluntary status with the advent of the National Health Service.

To develop services and expand capacity for increasing numbers of patients, North Cambs worked in partnership with other hospitals. Between 1925 and 1962 it worked with Addenbrooke’s hospital for the training of nurses, and from 1933 the provision of specialist services with a weekly Orthopaedic clinic by H.B. Roderick of Addenbrookes. 1946 – 9 saw the assistance of Addenbrooke’s to provide Medical and ENT Outpatient sessions. Lack of space post-war led to collaboration with the Clarkson hospital in Wisbech, which supplied two post-operative wards, enabling North Cambs to increase the number of surgeries.

From its opening in 1873 to the introduction of the NHS, North Cambs was governed by the Committee formed at the foundation of the hospital. From 1949 it was developed into a General Hospital providing a full range of specialist services, and was part of Peterborough Area Hospital Management Committee. In 1953 Peterborough Hospitals separated from North Cambridgeshire, and the hospital came under North Cambridgeshire Hospital Management Committee. In 1974 the Regional Hospital Boards were abolished and North Cambs came under West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority. From 1982 to 1990 the hospital came under the West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority Unit Management Team. In 2002 the Regional Health Authorities were replaced with Strategic Health Authorities. Today North Cambs is administered under Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Guest Post

‘Approaches to Opening Up Medical Archives’ and welcome to the Wellcome-funded projects group blog post for HARG

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Victoria Haddock, Wellcome Project Conservator, Boots Archive

The professional seminar ‘Approaches to Opening Up Medical Archives’ hosted at London Metropolitan Archives on 19 January 2018 was an insightful collection of talks around the project management and conservation of two important collections: the Foundling Hospital medical records at LMA and those of the St. Mark’s Hospital Archives held by St. Bartholomew’s Archive. Both projects have received funding from the Wellcome Trust Resource Resources awards to enable their conservation and cataloguing, with the aim of opening up access to these collections – whether by allowing them to be a in a more stable condition to be viewed, or to be digitised.

The Foundling Hospital project at LMA focused on a distinct subset of the Foundling collection which was unfit for consultation and required much-needed treatment to enable it to be digitised safely. In addition to this the LMA was successful in its application for a public engagement fund which will allow a year-long programme of events to link in with the project including an academic conference, events for schools and an exhibition.

The St. Marks collection is over 50 linear metres of archival items which all require full cataloguing, which will begin in February 2018. Their conservation has been worked on since July 2017 by their project conservator, who gave an insightful talk on her approach to working on such a large collection. The usefulness of having the time to thoughtfully and accurately survey a collection was detailed along with an interesting example of the development of stationery bindings from the mid-nineteenth century.

Both were great examples of the variety of challenges that may happen during these kinds of projects and we all got the chance to see some fantastic examples of the conservation work done by the conservators on these projects, from full rebinding examples to more minimal preventive approaches such as bespoke book jackets.

It was a great morning to hear about these projects and sparked many questions and debates. It was also a really great opportunity to meet others in similar situations who have the same sort of issues to confront within medical archives.

The timing of this event was also fortuitous as recently a group has been set up in the hope to connect previous and current conservators and archivists that have worked on short-term projects funded by the Wellcome. Since beginning work on a rehousing project at the Boots archive, Nottingham, in January 2017, I was struck by how many projects similar to mine had been funded by the Wellcome Trust. But there was nothing out there to tell us where we all were and no central body linking us together, even though we were all linked by the Wellcome’s funding and the fact that we are all medical, pharmaceutical or scientifically based archives. This struck me as a wasted opportunity for collaboration as many of us may have been facing the same kinds of challenges and there might have been someone else who has found the answer already and may be able to share this experience.

Personally, as an emerging conservator who has only recently graduated, I was struggling with the context of the project I was working on being the only conservator – and the first and only conservator the archive had ever had – and so was faced with a lot of responsibilities and decisions to make without having that opportunity to consult with a team of conservators with greater experience than me, that others might have in a different institution. But I also discovered mine was not an unusual case at all, there being many conservators out there with short-term project based work being one of their first ‘proper’ jobs after graduating from a postgraduate qualification or similar.

So this led me to begin drawing together a network of conservators, archivists and others, who were currently or had previously worked on projects such as mine. It has been initially a closed group on Facebook and an emailing list. After the event in the morning those of us that wanted to meet up to discuss the group were able to do so by the kind offer of a meeting space at LMA.

Many topics were discussed such as what we want to do with the group, how best to do this, what kind of information do we want to share such as project reports, as well as shorter blogs or images to show what we are working on, and are there any skills or training we would like to get that would benefit us a group and our particular situations. To be honest we only just touched the tip of the iceberg!

Many more thought-provoking topics were raised such as the general nature of project work from both the perspectives of those working on projects and those hiring for and managing those projects, how case studies and reports about Wellcome funded projects are not made available for those thinking of applying for funding, or those currently in that process to give applicants a greater understanding of the nature and scale of what conservation projects might become, and also how archivists and conservators could and should be working together in partnership.

This is just the beginning of what I hope to be a really useful network for people working on short term projects that want to have a place to voice their questions, successes and feel part of a wider supportive community.

If you have any questions about the group or would like to join the mailing list please email victoria.haddock@boots.co.uk.