Springtime in the Archive by Shona

It’s been two months since my last blog post so apologies if this ends up being a rather long post. As soon as the days started getting longer, there seemed to be more to do and certainly more travelling to be done.

Back at the end of April, I travelled to Edinburgh to visit the Royal College of Surgeons archive. This was a completely fascinating archive and our guide, Jacqueline Cahif showed us some of her favourite collections.

Trainees at Royal College of Surgeons Archive

Trainees at Royal College of Surgeons Archive

The collections vary from students who attended the college to the surgeons and lecturers themselves. I had a couple of favourites in amongst what was showcased. Letters sent to a Mr Joseph Bell from the famous Florence Nightingale and also one from Arthur Conan Doyle.

Having researched Public Health recently for our exhibition, I had an interest in learning more about the advances of medicine and in particular how nursing developed through Florence Nightingale. Visiting the archive gave me more background knowledge to how nursing progressed in Scotland.

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Joseph Bell

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Joseph Bell

Florence’s letter to Mr Bell thanking him for all he had done in raising the cause for trained nursing was really interesting and inspired me to find out more about nursing and in particular, district nursing. I shall go into more detail about district nursing more in a later blog post.

The second letter from Arthur Conan Doyle , who was a student of Mr Bell and had been training to be a surgeon but decided it was not for him says he based his character Sherlock Holmes on Mr Bell.

Letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Mr Joseph Bell

Letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Mr Joseph Bell

In his letter, Arthur Conan Doyle says:

“I fear that one effect of your identity being revealed to the readers of the ‘Strand’ will be that you will have ample opportunity for studying lunatics letters.”

The final item of interest from this visit was the original copy of Gray’s anatomy including the edits made by Henry Gray. As you can see from the photo, the edit included taking H.V Carter out of the credits for his drawings but it was Carter’s detailed drawings that really made the book sell. Suffice to say, Carter still remains as a credit in the book.

The original manuscript for Gray's Anatomy by Henry Gray with edits

The original manuscript for Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray with edits

Having watched the TV series about Sherlock Holmes and Gray’s Anatomy and hearing about Florence Nightingale, up until now, I never associated these famous names to Scotland. You learn something new every day as they say. To see and hear the stories behind their inspiration really made the visit even more exciting than I thought it would initially. To me this is what makes an archive exciting, finding something that you find a connection with.

In the afternoon of the same day, we visited the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) with Neasa Roughan as our guide. The collections consist of the institutional papers of the RCN, individual papers and objects and badges, medals, photos and diaries of nurses.

Neasa showing us the RCN's medal collection

Neasa showing us the RCN’s medal collection

In every archive there are special items and collections that you won’t get anywhere else and the RCN was no different. Here they have the entire collection of one nurse, Muriel Hibbert, who started writing a diary from the age of 10 years old and wrote every day until she was 75. Her diaries are an amazing insight into her life and work as a nurse. You can find out more about these diaries through Neasa’s blog post here: https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/blogs/the-diaries-of-nurse-hibbert

The collection of Muriel Hibbert's diaries from the age of 10 -75 yrs

The collection of Muriel Hibbert’s diaries from the age of 10 -75 yrs

You may be wondering what on earth all these visits to other archives in Edinburgh and elsewhere are about and what have they got to do with the Western Isles? It’s a good question and I will do my best to answer it here. As part of my training as a trainee archivist, finding out, visiting, and learning how other archives work is an important part of my training. Meeting other archivists and professionals help me to understand what processes, policies, procedures, and training I need. Knowledge of what collections are held is a vital part of these visits too and is something you can’t get from sitting in an archive trawling the internet.

Through these visits I am creating a network of people, experts in the field of archives who are willing to help out those who are just starting out. Not only that but more often than not, there is a connection to the Western Isles. With the Royal College of Nursing, they have records and information on nurses from all over Scotland including the Western Isles. This is helpful for me to know should we get an enquiry regarding nursing in the Tasglann. The more I know and the more I find out, the more useful that information will be to those who visit the archive.

After my visit to the Royal College of Nursing, I hope to use what I’ve researched so far to write another blog post specifically on District Nursing in the Western Isles. Keep an eye out for it!

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