Internship experiences at the Lothian Health Services Archive – Part 1

This is the first in a series of three blog posts kindly written for us by interns at the Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA) about their experiences.

Five weeks ago I was very lucky to be chosen as the first Research Intern at LHSA. I was so surprised when the phone rang offering me the position, and I am so happy that I have been given such a fantastic opportunity which I have gained a wealth of skills and knowledge from, which I can take with me throughout my career.  I should start by telling you how I got here, and why the Research Internship at LHSA appealed to me so much.

Nurse Ethel Miller’s autograph book

Nurse Ethel Miller’s autograph book, page 1, Acc 12/020

I graduated in May last year with a BA Honours in Photography and Film, with my dissertation focusing on the artistic influences on the first photographic images of 19th Century male hysteria, opposed to its highly researched female counterpart. Like many people, it was my dissertation that really sparked my interest in researching historical topics, and I found I really enjoyed it, and much to my family’s disappointment I enjoyed telling them every detail I found out along the way! So when the opportunity to be the Hospital Community Intern for Artlink’s 200 Years 200 Objects exhibition, commemorating the Royal Edinburgh Hospital’s bicentenary came up, I knew I had to apply, and fortunately I was offered the position. My role involved talking to the staff and patients at the REH to unearth interesting stories and objects which told the Hospital’s 200 year history. I loved talking to the Hospital community, and having the chance to share stories from one person to the next. Once I had completed the voluntary internship at Artlink, it really confirmed to me how much I wanted to pursue a career within research, particularly in a way which would benefit others, and allow them to enjoy its findings as much as I did.  So when I discovered LHSA were advertising for a new paid Research Internship, which focused on developing its WW1 collection into educational resources, it caught my attention immediately. So, to be been given this incredible opportunity and be part of the LHSA team for 5 weeks has been an amazing experience.

In the first few weeks of the internship I began this project by selecting and choosing some of the material from LHSA’s WW1 collection to develop for school children.  This initial task was very difficult, as there is so much interesting material to choose from. I knew I had to find something which would appeal to my chosen target audience of school children, but could also be adapted to fit in with the requirements of the Curriculum of Excellence and National qualifications. With this in mind, I knew I had struck gold when I opened both Nurse Ethel Miller’s autograph book and the Craigleith Chronicle Hospital Magazine.

War-time Wooing

‘War-time Wooing’ by JSM from the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle, GD1/82

Nurse Ethel Miller’s autograph book contains incredible drawings, sketches and poems dedicated to her by wounded soldiers she nursed in her ward at Craigleith Hospital, now the Western General Hospital. The Craigleith Chronicle is equally as rich in content, containing 36 issues filled with stories, diary extracts, poems, sketches and artwork from various members of the Hospital community throughout the duration of the War. Both are unique in their own right, and if I am honest I find it very difficult to choose which is my favourite, but what I love most is how both offer a more personal insight into life during the War. It was a pleasure to go through both materials finding the gems which could be developed further into online resources. One of my favourites, which I have chosen to be part of the Schools Educational Package on LHSA’s website is ‘War Time Wooing’, a short poem from the Craigleith Chronicle explaining how due to rationing and the shortage of flowers, it became acceptable to woo a woman with bacon! (Which I think, some may agree could be considered a great strategy, even today!)

What I absolutely loved throughout the research phase of the project was having the opportunity to be a detective, and find the same individuals mentioned throughout both sources.  I have found some extremely interesting characters such as Nurse Helm, who is congratulated in the Chronicle for “surviving her escape of a very unpleasant experience” after the hospital war ship she worked on was torpedoed and incredibly she survived.  She is also mentioned in Ethel Miller’s autograph book in a tiny scribble of a short poem titled ‘To Nurse Helm’ by a Private in the ward, which gives the impression she was a force to be reckoned with. Very fitting when comparing both sources! She will also be part of the online educational package for schools, as she is a great example of women’s changing roles throughout the Great War.

To Nurse Helm

‘To Nurse Helm’ By Pte Newlands, 1916, from Ethel Miller’s autograph book, page 4, Acc 12/020

The internship has prepared me well in selecting my final edit for schools educational resources. I have met with teachers and education officers to get their opinions on how my chosen material can be developed, which has been invaluable throughout the final selection phase of the project.  I have also met professionals from The National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the National Library of Scotland to find out how they develop their own archive material into online educational resources for schools, which has also been extremely beneficial for the project and for my own personal knowledge.

I have had the opportunity to see how archive material can also be developed for use in the classroom, by taking part in a Drama based education workshop at NRS. The workshop was absolutely fantastic, something I am quite surprised to say as I hated drama at school.  But having the chance to be a kid for the day and take part in the same drama based activities primary school children experience, truly was a brilliant way to see how archive material can be used in such a creative way for learning.

I am sad to say that I am now in my final week of the internship…. But I will leave on a high note as I will spend the last week physically making a replica of Ethel Miller’s autograph book in aid of the ‘Explore your Archive’ campaign which aims to promote the amazing things which can be found in archives to the public.  I am very excited to make this so that many others can physically handle such a beautiful and insightful object again and again…

I have loved every minute of the internship, and look forward to using the skills I have gained from it in my future career.

Kirstin Cunningham, LHSA Research Intern

Also published on the LHSA blog at http://lhsa.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/internships-update_29.html

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