Thursday, 16 December 2010

Friend or foe?

You could be forgiven for thinking this picture is from a Dr Who set. In fact, it is from a book published in 1947, The Metropolitan Police at War

The book records the work of the Metropolitan Police during the years 1939-45.
They lent a hand at any job from helping, encouraging and rescuing the public.
The book describes their new duties and how they tackled everything from the day-to-day police work to the strange new tasks, including black out duties, bomb reconnaissance, crashed aircraft, straying barrage balloons, dealing with pigeons and fireworks.
There are small chapters that highlight the work of the police; one is about the mounted branch that explains how the horses were trained: "the police horse has to be proof against suprise," he is taught to ride through fire and to stand quietly no matter what the noise level is.
Another chapter concentrates on women police: "London's small force of women police had a strenuous war. The number of jobs which can be better done by women than by men is greater even in war than in peace."
How did I come across this book? At present we are doing an audit check of the Official Publications collection and are cataloguing all those that are not already in our database.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Books in art

As the Official Publications Unit of the National Library of Scotland, we collect art publications from the major National Museums and Galleries in the UK, Ireland and the United States. With the aim of opening the collection to our new and regular readers, we are now presenting a “library” themed display of art catalogues, exploring the theme of the book in history of art. The display will be on from today until the 17th of January at the National Library in George IV Bridge. From the Visitor Centre and Caf√© area take the main stairs to the floor above.

Image credit: Sir William Fettes Douglas, "David Laing 1793-1878. Antiquary", 1862, National Galleries of Scotland

Monday, 6 December 2010

A little bit of Spitfire

A small flip book called Spitfire, published by the Imperial War Museum, has just been added to the OP collection at shelfmark OP5.210.11/50. It gives the reader (or flipper!) the chance to see aerial footage of the celebrated British fighter aircraft.

The Museum's Film and Video Archive holds some 20,000 hours of moving image material, much of which is from the Second World War. This includes British documentaries, newsreels and training films, including the 1944 aircraft recognition film Spitfires, part of which is featured in the flip book.
This publication is a simple concept and shows how books can still compete with digital media. Fans of the Spitfire F.21 plane can view a piece of aviation history in their hands without batteries!

(Photo credit:

Friday, 26 November 2010

St Andrew's Day celebrations

St Andrew's Day becomes a weekend-long event in Scotland with the First Minister opening the festivities today (26th November). Read all about how this Galilean fisherman became Scotland's patron saint and the story of the saltire.

(Pic. courtesy of Scottish Government)

Monday, 1 November 2010

League of Nations Display

Until 10th December OPU are displaying some of our wonderful League of Nations material. You will be able to see them at the top of the main stairs in front of the reading rooms on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. These fantastic titles are just a glimpse of the superb range of topics covered by this collection.

Over the next month I will be highlighting some of these great titles on this blog. So keep your eyes peeled and you will soon discover the many extraordinary aspects of this collection which are both historically and contemporary important.

Friday, 22 October 2010

I see the bad moon arising

As part of my India Papers digitisation job I quality check digital images and microfilm; yesterday I came across a couple of interesting pages from a lunatic asylum in Bengal, 1868.
The author was investigating the influence of climate and lunar phases on insanity. His experiment showed that the “waning moon had more apparent influence on the insanes than the waxing moon; but this can only be accidental, for though her face is less visible, she is still in her place in the heavens, and her attractive power (if any) must still be exerted; and that she really exerts no influence whatever.” The page shown is the table of results on which the author based his conclusion, which states at the head of the page “that there is no such person as a lunatic.” (Click on image to enlarge)

Full moons have long been associated with insanity, hence the term “lunatic,” borrowed from the Latin “lunacus.” In India patients with mental illness were known as “lunatics” or “insanes” until the 1920’s. This preceded the UK Mental Treatment Act of 1930 which changed the term to “person of unsound mind.”
Today, scientists are still researching correlations between illnesses such as schizophrenia and epilepsy and the full moon period. The police are also studying the influence of the moon on violent and criminal behaviour.
The next full moon is tomorrow, 23rd October, so perhaps we should take note of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song....

(Moon photo credit:

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another virus eradicated

A few days ago a joint FAO/OIE announcement astounded me.
Rinderpest, a devastating cattle plague, is set to become the first animal virus to be globally eradicated by man. Although it does not infect humans, the virus can wipe out entire livestock herds in days. This has caused famines for many centuries throughout the world.
I first heard of it when working on the digitisation of the India Papers veterinary material; the first book to be scanned was the Report on the Calcutta epizootic or cattle disease of 1864 in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. In Britain 400,000 cattle perished in the Great Cattle Plague of 1865-67 when rinderpest entered the country from the Baltic.
It is clear from the Indian veterinary reports that rinderpest was a serious threat to the Government cattle farms, established to provide dairy products to the colonial army. However, the mid-nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in health sciences, and veterinary science played a key role. The rinderpest virus was discovered in Turkey in 1902 by Nicolle and Adil-Bey.
The Indian Journal of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (1931-1959) is a fine example of the extensive bacteriological study of animal diseases. Understanding and preventing rinderpest was begun by scientists long ago; it is amazing to consider that, like smallpox, this virus is no longer at large.

(Picture is a typical plate from the Indian Journal, showing examples of Indian cattle.)
The Medical History of British India web feature will be updated in 2011 with over 35,000 pages of veterinary reports.

Sunday 24th October: United Nations Day

The 24th of October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948, to remember the anniversary of the launch of the United Nations on 24 October 1945. At the Official Publications Unit of the National Library of Scotland we collect United Nations publications too. Some items published by the UN during the 70s have recently been added to the NLS on-line catalogue and are now easier to find for our readers. To celebrate UN day and its achievements here is a selection from our “vintage” project…
- “Cultural rights as human rights” (1970) shelf mark UNESCO.90.[3]
- “Apartheid in practice” (1969) UN.XIV.2/3.[1]
- “United Nations population fund: what it is, what it does, how it works, why it concerns you” (1971) UN.XIII.1.[1]
- “Human rights protect refugees” (1973) UN.XV.2.[2]
- “The needs of children: a survey of the needs of children in the developing countries” (1963) UN.I.9/10.[1]
- “Preparations of the child for modernization: skills and intellectual requirements” (1970) UN.IV.19.[70.16]
- “Rural cooperative and planned change in Africa” (1972) UN.IV.17.[5]
…and something for book and library lovers too:
- “Books for all: a programme of action” (1973) UNESCO.1/15.[3]

Image: “Non-violence” by Carl Fredrik Reutersw√§rd, United Nations, New York, 1988 (credit: United Nations website

Friday, 8 October 2010

Yes Minister

A fascinating item was added to the OPU collection this week, Working with Ministers. I was particularly impressed with the introduction where it stated “Serving ministers can be exhilarating and rewarding: what more worthwhile work can there be than playing a part in the government?” It goes on to say however, “when roles, relationships and ministers’ requirements are unclear, the environment can become unhappy and unproductive.”
The book explains what civil servants are expected to do, from briefing a Minister to drafting Ministers’ speeches and drafting answers to Parliamentary Questions. The book has short pithy statements, which are then expanded, some of these are :
“While it is helpful if ministers understand the needs of the civil servants, it’s essential that civil servants understand the needs of ministers”;
“It falls to officials to ensure that ministers’ decisions are based on a firm foundation of fact” ;
“Standard paragraphs and standard letters should, however, be used with real caution.”
It is a practical and helpful read, there are supplements to the chapters that are very informative, such as useful phrases and sentences. The best supplement has to be words and phrases to avoid. This made me smile as I still hear these words used but these “are now deemed ugly, imprecise or simply over-used and should be avoided,” such as ball park, customer, growing forward, mission statement, to negatively impact, drivers, vision and so on.
I thoroughly enjoyed leafing through this book.

(Photo credit BBC)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

One "therian" a day...

In 130 B.C. a Greek ship sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.
How can this be relevant to the history of medicine? It can because in 1974 the shipwreck was found and years later a box full of ancient medicines, prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece, was discovered amongst other objects.
Many of the pills were completely dry and have recently been analysed by Robert Fleisher of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park (Washington, DC), who reported on his study on Monday 13th September 2010 at the Fourth International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Copenhagen, Denmark. Analysing the DNA fragments of two of the pills, Fleisher discovered that each tablet is a mixture of more than 10 plants extracts. Carrot, radish, celery, wild onion, oak, cabbage, alfalfa, yarrow and hibiscus are only some of the ingredients.
Alain Touwaide, scientific director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, is studying whether these plants extracts are now known to treat illnesses effectively. He also aims to discover therian, an ancient remedy, and to document exactly the measurements ancient doctors used to manufacture it.

(photo credit :

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Indian Hemp Drugs Commission

Harding-Simpole is a publishing house which specialises in books which are often difficult to find.Some of these will be reprints that are rare or impossible to obtain through the usual channels.
In association with the National Library of Scotland, they have published a facsimile reprint of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report of 1893-94.
This report is the most comprehensive study on the effects of cannabis use ever undertaken. 1,455 witnesses were cross-examined in 86 meetings in 36 cities throughout India.

This reprint includes including rare photographs of cannabis cultivation, production and consumption.
There are some fascinating case studies: “[When] he [a soldier in the 13th Regiment] went on leave and lost some relations from cholera … he took to immoderate smoking, which resulted in madness …he was a raving maniac – violent, obstreperous.”
Anyone studying narcotics will find this work compelling, especially as it appears that the same debates still rage now, for example: should the use of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes be approved?

“It has been clearly established that the occasional use of hemp in moderate doses may be beneficial; but this use may be regarded as medicinal in character.”

This publication is also available on Amazon and at the National Library of Scotland.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Open Sesame!

During every weekend in September many Scottish buildings will open their doors for free. Here is a glimpse of what you could visit in Edinburgh:
- the Art Deco building of the Edinburgh Sports Club
- the Anatomy Lecture Theatre & Anatomy Resource Centre, where historical and contemporary anatomic material is stored for studying purposes
- a brand new Japanese House in Portobello
- the Herbarium and Library of the Royal Botanic Garden
For more information visit the Doors Open Days website.

Image credit:

Monday, 30 August 2010


The novel I am currently reading is no ordinary novel: archived by the British Library as the world’s first novel written for podcasting, it is now available in print. I met the author himself, Paul Story, while he was distributing copies at the foot of the Playfair steps on the Mound, as part of many initiatives happening during the Festival. I say “distributing” and not “selling” because in exchange for a copy of the book the reader is not handing over money as it usually happens, but instead an agreement to the “Honesty Deal”. And that’s what I did, I promised the author, on a shake of hands, that:
- I will finish the book within one month
- I will pay for it if I enjoyed it
- I will otherwise pass it to the next honest reader who has to agree to the same “Honesty Deal”
The hope of Story (I can’t help thinking that despite this honest atmosphere he is actually using a fake surname!) is that each copy of the book will find a paying satisfied reader sooner than later. In that case, the second book of the Dreamwords series will be published soon. I took my copy with me, thinking that the courage and original thinking of this writer would be worth the payment, no matter my opinion of the book, but then I’ve started reading it, I couldn’t put it down for hours, and once I did, I was still thinking about it…
Image credit: Paul Story

Friday, 27 August 2010

Shopping spree

Comprehensive and lavishly illustrated,
Scotland's Shops, a Historic Scotland publication, takes the reader on a high street tour from luckenbooths to department stores and arcades. The architecture of retail buildings is something that many take for granted, particularly as shops come and go and styles change.
Written by Dr. Lindsay Lennie, this colourful book examines shop development, types and architecural elements. It also contains conservation case studies of shops and includes a gazetteer showcasing the various shopfronts and interiors across Scotland.
A treat for the eyes, could this be the ultimate window shopping experience?

Scotland's Shops shelfmark in NLS: OP7.210.3/3
(photo credit: Historic Scotland, showing Fiona Hyslop launching the book in Jenners Department Store Edinburgh, in June 2010)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

World Humanitarian Day

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted in its Plenary Session on 11th December 2008, the Swedish sponsored Omnibus Resolution on “Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations”, that carried the historic decision by the world body, to designate the 19th August as World Humanitarian Day to honor all humanitarian and the United Nations and associated personnel who have lost their lives in the cause of duty and those who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause. The Resolution invites all Member States, the United Nation system, within existing resources, as well as other international organizations and non-governmental organizations to observe the day annually in an appropriate manner. This is a major historic landmark for the Humanitarian Sphere and a great gain for all victims of armed conflict.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Swine flu pandemic officially over

The influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic has been declared officially over by the World Health Organization. On 10th August the WHO announced that the world had moved out of phase 6 of the influenza pandemic alert. Entering into the post-pandemic phase does not mean that the virus has gone away, however. There are still localised outbreaks plus the usual mix of seasonal viruses.
As the WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan stated, "Pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable. So is the immediate post-pandemic period. There will be many questions, and we will have clear answers for only some. Continued vigilance is extremely important."
So the days of seeing some people in masks are over. For now....

(photo credit (swine flu in Japan): New Scientist)

Monday, 9 August 2010

"The three books of the potter's art"

This 1934 Official Publication, published by the Victoria and Albert Museum under the authority of the Board of Education, relates to a treatise written in 1548 by the Italian expert Cipriano Piccolpasso. It offers the transcription of the original text in Italian and the English translation on the same page, making it particularly easy to explore the 16th century Italian text, for those who are keen to do so. Despite being a modern edition, it still keeps the feeling of a manuscript, thanks to the reproduction in facsimiles of the pages containing illustrations. The reader will be able to easily understand the content because of the modern printing, but also to enjoy the layout of an ancient book, the handwriting of the author, the amended errors and the side notes, as well as the amusing illustrations, that make up the first monograph in an European language on the subject of the art of pottery.
The manuscript remained on Italian soil until 1861, when it was sold to Sir Charles Robinson, an antiquarian. He was made superintendent of the art collections when the South Kensington Museum (now V&A) was founded in 1852. In 1863 the manuscript was added to the collection of the National Art Library at the V&A.
Given the strong tradition of pottery in Scotland, this item may be of interest to artists, art historians but also amateurs and general public. It was also the author’s belief that spreading the knowledge of the art of pottery, until then considered “secret”, would have resulted in improved interest and skills: “To those who deem me presumptuous in publishing this secret I answer that it is better many should know a good thing than few should keep it hidden”. Isn’t this the ultimate reason for every book to be collected, promoted and cared for?

Alas, poor E.T.?

The new exhibition at the Royal College of Surgeons is on now until April 2011. It explores the development of plastic surgery from around 800 BC, including the consequences of warfare and today's growing obsession with enhancing the human body.
I'll be going as there are never before seen pathology specimens on show, including a bound South American skull. Some ancient communities practised skull binding, which is a tantalising anthropological puzzle. While it is most likely that rope, cloth and boards were used to elongate the skull at a young age, there are debates why this was done. Perhaps it was to enhance mental abilities or it was part of a social hierarchy. Or perhaps these conical-headed people were aliens?

(photo credit: Robert Connolly, from

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Glad rags…

I went to – and really enjoyed – the exhibition of Grace Kelly’s dresses at the Victoria and Albert Museum a couple of months ago, so I was thrilled to get the chance to re-live it through the book Grace Kelly style. Both exhibition and book chart Grace’s journey from 50’s actress to fairy tale bride, and beyond, capturing her later style as she established herself in her role as princess. I was particularly struck by the exquisite detail and fine workmanship, and surprised by how fresh and up-to-date many of the earlier outfits still are. She truly is an enduring style icon.

(Photo credit: Erwin Blumenfeld, Portrait of Grace Kelly, New York, 1955.© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld 2009; from the V&A website)

Friday, 30 July 2010

Visiting Edinburgh?

A little display of Official Publications will show you some of the beauties Edinburgh offers: from Scottish modern art to activities in the open air. You'll find it (for free and until the first week of September included) at the National Library of Scotland, in George IV Bridge, taking the main stairs to the floor above.
Image: William Crozier, Edinburgh (from Salisbury Crags), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Friday, 23 July 2010

Read all about us!

The Summer 2010 issue of the NLS magazine, Discover NLS, sees OPU staff busy promoting some of our fascinating and varied collection.
In "Professional Practice" Catherine Davies tells how she is cataloguing and promoting our League of Nations material and explains more about the founding of the League.
I have written a four page article about the Medical History of British India, exploring the content of some of our candid and astonishing India Papers.
Meanwhile in the News section, Jan Usher reports back on her latest visit to Kolkata where she continued to forge links with the National Library of India.
The magazine is available in the Library, or by post or online.
Happy summer reading!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Festival time!

Edinburgh's a festival city, and this year is the 6th Festival of Politics from 17th - 21st August. The theme is Changing Politics and, to demonstrate that politics is not just about politicians, features Annie Lennox, comedian Mark Thomas, and journalist Martin Bell, amongst others.

Have a look at the Festival's blog, too, for up-to-date information.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Simple yet stylish!

The coffee table book of the month must go to
V&A Pattern Kimono.
This is a lovely little book, and it has an added bonus that it has a CD-ROM at the back which shows the wonderful designs.
The Kimono was the principal dress for all classes from the sixteenth century. They are straight-seamed garments worn wrapped left side over right and secured with a sash called an obi.
Images, colours and nature play an important part on a Kimono, for example a motif of a crane is a symbol of longevity and good fortune, while a pair of dropped fans suggest lovers disturbed, and the colour red denotes youthful glamour and allure and also is a symbol for passion.
The book is full of colourful illustrations showing kimonos from the early 19th to 20th century. My favourite is on page 58 it is of an outer kimono, blue satin silk with embroidery of a tree and waterfall and a pagoda. The design is very simple but so stylish.
Although this book is about Japanese kimonos, it unfortunately came in after the display on Japanese books was set up, however, it is not too late to see this exhibition outside the Official Publications Unit in Causewayside.
The book is placed at OP5.210.5/5

There are other V&A pattern books covering the museum’s diverse collection; these are intended as an introduction to the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. The books are beautiful but also useful, showing patterns and giving inspiration to new designs.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Sick of football

With the 2010 World Cup football finals in full swing in South Africa there will be many - unlike myself! - who are already tired of football.
However, with around 350,000 people gathering in South Africa there is potential for being really sick because of football.
Mass Gathering Medicine is concerned with large groups of people exchanging diseases at sporting events, conferences and the Haj, and the World Health Organization has published World Cup advice on their website .
The resurgence of H1N1 A influenza and Rift Valley Fever is a particular worry, together with people not being immunised for the variety of infections which they may encounter. The fans will be exposed to more than the drone of vuvuzela horns and players may be swapping more than shirts. Germs cannot be given the red card, but the authorities can make spectators more aware of the health risks.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Antidote to brutality and vice

Anything containing "horror" in the title is of interest to my morbid curiosity, so that's why I took a closer look at Henry Cole and the chamber of horrors by Christopher Frayling.
Published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, this book details the origins and early history of the V&A. Henry Cole's gallery of false principles - which came to be known as the "chamber of horrors" - was the Museum's inaugural exhibition in 1852.
The book contains beautiful colour plates of the known surviving exhibits and explores the relationship between culture and society.
Cole, in his famous 1874 speech, said: "Schools of Art are there to instruct chiefly the young, but Museums are there to instruct the young and old...they are temples where all can worship in harmony; they teach good habits of order, and cleanliness and politeness...Museums are antidotes to brutality and vice."
Just like libraries!

(Photograph of Henry Cole by A J Melhuish, 1870. Museum no. 355-1886, from the V&A website)

Friday, 11 June 2010

Forests and gardens of South India

55 botanical drawings made for the forest conservator Hugh Cleghorn are being exhibited for the first time at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. The exhibition is part of a series of drawings made by Indian artists for Scottish East India Company surgeons.
It runs until the 4th July; admission is free.

(photo credit: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh website)

Taste of Japan

I don’t know when it first started but it seems for a long time I have become more and more fascinated by Japanese culture. I thought for the month of June that the exhibition outside our office should demonstrate this. The books on display are from the Official Publications Collection, so yet again, it shows what a diverse collection of material we have, not just parliamentary papers and copies of Hansard.
One of the items is the Japanese Foreign Ministry a reference aid from the Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence,
Another item is Japanese art in detail from the British Museum, what an interesting book, it explains about Japanese art and goes into great detail describing Japanese art work in the British Museum.

The Tale of Genji is another book I have chosen and you can see on display the cover of this book. This ranks amongst the world’s greatest works of romantic works, it was written in the early eleventh century and had an enormous impact on Japanese literature, not just the wording but also the visual art.
The last book I want to point out is the British Museum book on Haiku poetry. Haiku poetry is short only seventeen syllables which normally consist of three phrases a five syllable phrase followed by a seven syllable phrase followed by another five syllables. When the strictest rules are followed there are three requirements, these are brevity, seasonal feeling and a cutting word, and this word can be placed at the end of any of the three lines.

Why not try making up a Haiku or have a competition with your friends and colleagues.
I hope that you will enjoy this small exhibition and you will become as fascinated as myself on Japanese culture.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Britain needs more babies

When your baby is coming
A Kitchen Front Broadcast prepared for the Ministry of Health and the Central Council for Health Education by the Ministry of Information.
Shelfmark GII.1/1

“The care of the young and the establishment of sound, hygienic conditions of motherhood have a bearing upon the whole future of the race which is vital”
The Prime Minister March 21st 1943.

When browsing on the stacks I came across this wonderful pamphlet, it is split into 5 chapters and is a fantastic read.
The first chapter starts with “Britain needs more babies.”
It explains that the birth rate has gone down due to the later age of marriage, the selfishness of young people who are said to prefer a baby car to the real thing!
The second chapter is about the building of the baby.
There are no special foods or drinks or pills, and you don’t need a bottle of stout or a life of leisure, however, you should eat eggs and liver and the eggs can be borrowed from your husband’s ration.
The third chapter is entitled facts and fables about pregnancy.
One of the fables is “the baby will be marked if you get a fright.” It also discusses morning sickness, it usually disappears in a month or so, a tip to help is to have a cup of weak tea and a dry biscuit or a piece of toast taken before you get up, this is a job for the father if he’s at home!
The fourth chapter is advice to mother – and father.
It states don’t be afraid of the stares of those nosey neighbours whose gaze starts at your face and rapidly descends with a measuring eye to your waist line. You are doing a job worth while and you’ve nothing to fear. It explains about a proper snooze after lunch, not one ear to the forces programme, you fingers busy with a piece of knitting, your eyes skimming across a book, you should put your feet up and snooze.
The chapter also explains what you can do to prepare your breasts for breast feeding. "It states to wash your nipples daily with plain soap and water, then gently pull out the nipple about half a dozen times, then dry it and smear on a little lanoline or cold cream if you have got it. But that’s not essential."
The father’s advice is “in the latter months some women feel depressed at their appearance. He must understand that.”
The final chapter is about after the baby is born.
The baby needs to be protected from the kisses of relatives from father downwards due to salivary bacteria, and he can wait for his first smell of father’s tobacco, and the less he is handled the better, don’t try and tickle a smile out of him.
This pamphlet is a wonderful read of a bygone time and it is full of priceless information. One final comment it was written by a man!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A man of wide interests

Andrew Duncan Senior: physician of the Enlightenment, edited by John Chalmers.

Dr Andrew Duncan (1744-1828) is best known for his founding role in the Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum. When Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was built in 1738, twelve rooms were set aside for care of the insane, but these had been abandoned to other uses. A Charity Workhouse Bedlam and private "mad houses" existed, but were overcrowded or costly, thus excluding pauper lunatics.
Duncan attended a mentally ill poet, Robert Fergusson, who was forcibly locked up in the Edinburgh Bedlam, and after Fergusson's early death he wrote, "His case, however, afforded me an opportunity of witnessing the deplorable situation of Pauper Lunatics even in the opulent, flourishing, and charitable Metropolis of Scotland."
In 1790, when he became President of the Royal College of Physicians, Duncan started the campaign for a lunatic asylum in Edinburgh.
The foundation stone was laid three years later in 1809 and the first patient admitted in summer 1813. Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum was sited in Morningside, but it proved financially impossible to admit pauper patients. Duncan tried to raise more funds to complete the building, and died in 1828, with the asylum admitting only 40 fee-paying patients annually. Lack of money in his lifetime proved to thwart his ambition of a facility open to all.
In the following years the asylum thrived, and pressure to admit pauper patients increased until fee-payers were turned away. In 1869 it was reported that 7,144 patients had been admitted since opening, and in the 1920s the "Royal Ed" became a renowned academic and therapeutic centre.
The original Craighouse complex is now part of Napier University and has been renamed the Thomas Clouston Clinic.
This book explores Duncan's wide interests, organisational vigour and his commitment to public health. It contains some fascinating drawings of Edinburgh 19th century medical institutions and includes an extensive bibliography.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Out of Mind

BBC Four has been showing Mental: A History of the Madhouse and it is still available on BBC iplayer.
The documentary tells the fascinating and poignant story of the closure of Britain's mental asylums. In the post-war period, 150,000 people were hidden away in 120 of these vast Victorian institutions all across the country. Today, most mental patients, or service users as they are now called, live out in the community and the asylums have all but disappeared. Through powerful testimonies from patients, nurses and doctors, the film explores this seismic revolution and what it tells us about society's changing attitudes to mental illness over the last sixty years.
Explore online what life was like in an asylum by visiting the educational History to Her Story, which features case notes from West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
(main text from BBC website, photo of Insane Asylum Brentwood from

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Pop goes anatomy

OPU received Natural History Museum's Human Body book recently. It's an interactive guide to the inner workings of the body with pop-ups, pull-tabs, fact wheels and flaps.

Did you know?

Over half the body’s bones are in the wrists, hands and fingers and the ankles, feet and toes.
The human brain stops growing at the age of 18 years.
The largest muscle is the gluteus maximus in the buttock.
The human heart beats more than 3,000 million times in an average lifetime.
Most of us have about 110,000 head hairs.
The fertilised human egg increases in size about ten billion times to become a newborn baby.
The parts of the body that grow least from birth to maturity are the eyeballs.

Take an interactive tour through the world’s most complicated machine – the human body - with this fantastic book, suitable for ages 8 and up.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Those were the days!

Something completely different for election day, but it gets my vote: "My Generation: the glory years of British rock", a new book featuring the photographs of the BBC's Top of the Pops photographer Harry Goodwin. He's the subject of a display at the Victoria and Albert Museum(V&A) until the end of October. It certainly took me down memory lane - as a wee girl my 2 older sisters plastered our bedroom wall with pictures of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, The Kinks, and of course, the Beatles (I loved Paul best). We never missed TOTP in our house, and I grew up with it, building up my own record collection (devoting myself to Marc Bolan & T-Rex, Alice Cooper and David Bowie). Ah, the heady days of glam rock!

Friday, 30 April 2010

Words of Beatle

"On 18 June 2010 Sotheby's New York will offer for sale John Lennon’s autograph Lyrics for A Day In The Life, the revolutionary song that marked the Beatles transformation from pop icons to artists. The double-sided sheet of paper in Lennon’s hand is complete with cross-outs, corrections, reworkings, and chronicles the evolution of one of the most famous pop masterpieces from conception to the lyrics presumably used in the recording studio. A Day In The Life was the final track of the Beatles legendary 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK’s charts and 15 weeks at number one on the American Billboard 200. The lyrics once belonged to Mal Evans, the Beatles’ road manager and are estimated to fetch $500/700,000. From the first time it was aired on 1 June 1967, A Day In The Life was recognized as one of the towering achievements of popular music, that elevated not only the Beatles to new levels but allowed pop music to take its place as one of the 20th century’s defining artistic movements. The handwritten lyrics provide a rare glimpse into the Beatles’ songwriting dynamic with Lennon noting where Paul McCartney would insert his lively upbeat verses. A Day In The Life sparked instant controversy upon its release. It was banned by the BBC because of the line ‘I’d love to turn you on’ which supposedly encouraged drug use, making it the first song to be censored by a national radio network in the UK. A Day In The Life was also omitted from the album when it was released in several Asian countries. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the US and UK charts, won four Grammy awards in 1968, topped Q Magazine’s list of the 50 Greatest British Songs of All Time and ranked number 26 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

Text and image:

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Workers Memorial Day officially recognised

Workers' Memorial Day (subject of a previous posting on our blog about the consultation procedure) has been "officially" recognised by the UK government for the first time, joining 18 other countries to do so.
The government's response showed that the overwhelming majority of those consulted approved formal recognition.

28th April date was chosen for this day as it is the anniversary of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the USA.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hopetoun House

I went for a visit to Hopetoun House (Edinburgh) on the first day of its seasonal re-opening. The estate is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen so far, not only in Scotland but, I would say, in Europe. There’s so much to enjoy: the remote and quite location -between the waterfront and the country side- helps to create a special and solemn atmosphere before leading you to the magnificent and elegant architecture from the 18th century. The grounds are designed as a traditional British park, that leaves space to nature: long, wide fields of green grass, spaces open to the wonder of the eyes, tall ancient trees that reach the sky. It is a space to be walked slowly in silence, a space for contemplation: the yellow narcissus growing here and there, the sound of the tall fountain –visible from most of the windows of the House- will lead you. The interiors are not simply aristocratic: they are put together with a rare sense of beauty and wellbeing that permeates the space. Every room has a little treasure to offer to the visitor: this could be an ancient cot, a gorgeous embroidery, a marble fireplace with wonderfully sculptured figures, or maybe a carved wooden staircase, that draws your eye to one of the few Baroque ceilings existing in Scotland. A very special art piece sits quietly in one of the public rooms downstairs, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by the Rubens School: although most of the surface was probably painted by his helpers, some attitudes and shapes of the characters carry the distinctive mark of the Master, creating the magic that hypnotises you in front of the big canvas. Good tours are offered for those who want to know more, the guides are enthusiastic and very keen on answering every question you might ask. They suggest, and give permission, to wander around the House on your own, after the guided tour, and this was in fact a very good idea: I could have a closer look at a wonderful picture of two tigers drinking on a river side, embroidered in silk.
I took more time to browse the lovely library, full of ancient publications, and I also found some surprises:
- first of all a wonderful collection of ancient literature: Greek historians and poets find their place near Latin authors.
- a masterpiece of Italian Linguistics, the very first “Dictionary of Italian Language” (“Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca”), published in 1612 by the Crusca Academy, that officially established the rules for modern Italian and is to these days a very important Institution. The copy at Hopetoun House is dated 1623 on the spine, underneath the title, but I don’t know whether this is an original edition or a much later copy. This Dictionary served as a model for the first English, German, French and Spanish Dictionaries.
- last but not least a good selection of Official Publications, their presence probably represents the interests and official role of the family during the ex British Empire: Victor, 8th Earl and 2nd Marquess (1887-1952) was civil Lord of the Admiralty from 1922 to 1924. He chaired the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India from 1926 to 1928. In 1928 he was made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. He chaired the committee on Indian constitutional reform in 1933 and helped formulate the Government of India Act of 1935. Following his experience in India he returned there as Viceroy and Governor General from 1936 to 1943, almost two full terms of office, making him the longest-serving Viceroy. Some of the Australian titles I could spot are “The Debates of the Australian Federal Convention” and “The Catalogue of the Parliamentary Library of Queensland”. Even more interesting for us the presence of Indian Official Publications, published by the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India and also by the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform. Also worth mentioning are the volumes published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office “India: The Transfer of Power 1942-7”.
The Library (and Archives) have been put together by generations of the Hope family, who have lived here since Hopetoun was first built (1699). There is a catalogue of the Library, and some cataloguing of the Archive (which was carried out in bundles by the NLS some years ago). Both the Library and Archives are available for consultation, by appointment through the management office (
I will end by mentioning an Indian picture hang in a corridor: two bulls are fighting surrounded by a gorgeous border of water lilies, the image was probably originally created by Ajanta and copied here by S. Ahmed in 1933.