Explore our Archive

Today, we’re coming to the end of Explore Your Archive week, an initiative from the Archives and Records Association that aims to raise the profile of archives and their role in our everyday lives. Archives can risk being seen as dusty and irrelevant, telling us about the past but with little relevance to how we live our lives now. In Explore Your Archive week, we need to say very much the opposite – archives not only preserve our memories, but also act as vital evidence for the present and future to ensure that our society is run openly and fairly.

Climbing off my soapbox for a minute, we have been having some serious fun in Explore Your Archive week! We’ve been taking part on Twitter, joining together with archivists from across the United Kingdom and Ireland (and also worldwide!) who have been tweeting on a different theme every day.

Monday was an insight into a #DayInTheLife of archivists, peeking into what archivists get up to all day in the office and amongst the stacks in the stores. From work in the search-room to cataloguing to taking part in talks and lectures, a great variety of activity was on show. It had been an enquiries day for me, seeking out images like this one...

At work in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital hen house, April 1959 (P/PL7/P/038)
...as well as researching people’s ancestors though our asylum records. The case books of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital are not our largest collection, but they are certainly the most popular with researchers.

On Tuesday, First World War archives were the focus (#ww1archives). This year, we’re getting a  lot of enquiries about the period for obvious reasons. Although we can’t help people with soldiers’ medical records, we have a wealth of sources giving a glimpse into everyday life in Edinburgh’s hospitals during the war, including nurses’ scrapbooks like this one from Bangour Village Hospital (taken over by the War Office in 1915):

Scrapbook from a Bangour nurse, c. 1917 (Acc13/044)

Wednesday saw a chance for Twitter followers to #askarchivists. Although I didn’t take any questions myself, queries ranged from oldest archives to guides to academic and genealogical research. And don’t worry if you didn’t get your question in on the day, because as one participant said: “Archivists don't just answer questions one day a year! We do it all day, every day!”

We took an #archiveselfie on Thursday – here are our wonderful CRC conservators, posing with their favourite equipment:

Our CRC conservators, left to right: Emma, Ruth, Anna and Emily.
My own favourite 'selfie story' was that of Edith Halvarsson, who’s been with us from the Information Management and Preservation MSc at the University of Glasgow. In two weeks, she’s very much explored archives and taken the papers of the Medical Women’s Federation from this:

Medical Women's Federation papers before cataloguing

To this:

Edith with a beautifully ordered trolley!
As the ‘mad cat lady’ of the office, I’m ready to post pictures of our #archiveanimals today (cats and dogs, for example, can often be found in both informal and formal images of hospital staff). Here’s one with First World War soldiers recuperating with the help of some feline friends at Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers:

First World War image from a photograph album from Edenhall Hospital, c. 1917 (Acc12/054)
The Explore Your Archive initiative doesn’t end today for LHSA. Worth a mention is our participation in the Previously… festival over the next couple of weeks. The Previously... festival celebrates Scotland’s history with events all over the country. On Saturday 15 November, we’ll be at the Family History Day in Edinburgh Central Library on George IV Bridge (and tweeting, with the hashtag #explorearchives). From 10:30am until 4pm, you can come along and ask Ruth and Louise everything you’ve ever wanted to know about finding family history in hospital records.

On Tuesday 18th November here at the Centre for Research Collections, Louise is going to be talking about how to use our records in genealogy, with a chance to get up close and personal with some of our nineteenth century patient records: http://www.historyfest.co.uk/2014-events/november-18

And on Saturday 22nd November, we’re running a children’s event on making your very own medieval manuscript! http://www.historyfest.co.uk/2014-events/november-22

We need to speak up for and use archives to keep them alive, so come and visit LHSA at these events – and Explore Our Archive!