London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine


Victoria Cranna - Archivist and Records Manager

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's Archivist and Record Manager, Victoria Cranna, talks to Faith Williams about the challenges of managing the organisation's 20,000 plus item collection. Subjects discussed include the 1987 Ebola outbreak and also the importance of modernisation and inclusivity and the challenges of managing a colonial legacy.


London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:

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Hello and welcome to the Mass Communications 2021 podcast, a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections. My name is Faith Williams, and I'm joined today by Victorian Cranna, archivist and records manager for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Hello, Victoria. How are you today? I'm good. Thank you. Would you like just to self and talk about how you came to work at the School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine? Of course. So I became an archivist a long time ago and studied in the mid-nineties. I had various roles in different organizations and then started working at the school in 2002. July 2002, September 19th anniversary. Can't quite believe in such a long time, and I what's been fantastic about working there is I set up the archives so established it. There wasn't an archivist for myself. I was the first professional archivist, so I built the service over the last 19 years and I think earlier in my career I never would have thought I would be so much so that it still presents lots of challenges and opportunities, and I really like working that. So how would you spend an average day it must have changed a lot over the years if you set sort of set the ball rolling. That has changed because now we're a small team. I do have a say. When I started for the first five years, I worked my own as an an archivist and I had to raise a lot of funding to work on construction projects. And then I think after roughly four or five years, I became a permanent member of staff because before I was given short term contracts. And it's it has changed a lot over the years in terms of the work that I do. I started off doing archives to come back with management. So quite a long period I was working on information compliance as well. So data protection and freedom of information. So research data management came under my responsibility until fairly recently. So there's been lots of different roles that I've taken on within the umbrella of the office to my manager. But now we're back to mainly work in the archives and doing Michael's management. And I said myself, I work part time now. Breakfast works part time in all kinds of systems where it's great. Fantastic. So what type of material are you dealing with? What have you collated together that makes up the archive? So we have many records relating to tropical medicine, so we were founded as a colonial medical school really to look at, but to train doctors who were going after the colonies. So we have records about the administration of the school. We have two positive connections. So one of our largest collections is that for the papers of Ronald Ross, he was the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria and also the first Briton to win a Nobel Prize for medicine. So we have over 20,000 of his items in our collection. We also have papers of the Patriots son, who was the founder of the school, and he's been called the father of tropical medicine in the past. So there's papers relating to our work on exploring tropical medicine through expeditions and so forth. And then another side of the school was when we started working on public health from the 1920s. So we have a large collection on nutrition and then coming more recently up to date, I say more recently, it's still kind of 40 years. We have quite a lot collections on HIV and AIDS. So and some of our most highly used collections. So there's a wide kind of breadth, although I sometimes they were quite specialist. A lot of our collections cover quite a lot of. Different subjects, obviously, for comparison, you might not think affects a majority of the population, but it's obviously has an international significance, but also a public health work does cover a lot of population. We also have material on the discovery of Ebola. Our director was involved in the discovery of that in the 1970s, so we have the papers on that. And they're actually used during the 2014 outbreak to live, to look at the disease and to see whether the hypotheses they were making about how it was spread and so forth and the 2014 outbreak correlated with the original data . So it felt that it was. That gave us not more validation, but that was a really good use of the archives, though in a terrible, terrible situation, I think sometimes we have to remember that we are dealing obviously with disease days and public health issues, which can be quite distressing as well. But then it makes it. It's helpful when we know that we can help providing access to the records, to the scientists and researchers that need to look at them. Wow, that does sound really relevant, that must be quite rewarding, that the the work that you've done. I mean, goes on to make a difference. Yeah, that's another recent cases for the infected blood inquiry. So that's not government inquiry looking into people, often hemophiliacs that we could've been infected blood products in the 1980s and some of those went on to develop HIV and AIDS and hepatitis. So that inquiry has looked at a large number of our records, thousands of documents, not in terms of the fact that the school provided uninfected blood products by but by the archive in terms of how people were treated, especially in the eighties and nineties that went on to develop HIV and AIDS. So there's there's lots of interest in that. And that again, was really a good way to kind of validate what we do and show our importance internally and externally as well. So is the bulk of your material sort of scientific and academic papers and things like that, or do you have anything more sort of, I don't know more people side of things. I think it is a mixture. There is quite a lot of academic kind of research based materials. Excuse me. However, I think it's the way that you interpret some of the material. So, for example, the rock collection has lots of letters and correspondence and so forth. And then some of our HIV and AIDS collections are very visual. So there's lots about public health campaigns. So, for example, we've got over 700 posters, which all over Europe during the late eighties and early nineties, and they really show how different countries were approaching the AIDS epidemic. So many people remember, you know, of the 1987 government campaign with tombstones, and it was very doom and gloom and had a big impact in that sense, whereas other countries were more humorous and grouped. So it's interesting to to compare those. So we do, although. You have said academic kind of papers, but we also have other of the types of materials and posters, we've got a big map collection. And then we also have what we call kind of ephemera of nature of collections that we have no back. We have condom packets, we have brooches, we have stuff from the kind of the public health campaigns. So it's the big kind of variety of material. What would you say are the particular challenges you've come across on dealing with this collection for almost almost 20 years, though? I think resourcing is always challenging. If we want stupid cataloging projects, we have to try and find external funding. And I think sometimes we are our own worst enemy because we take on quite a lot of projects which can often get, oh, that would be great to be built. And then you realize. So I think we we are trying, we need to be a bit more strategic and I think what we can take on. But I think especially during lockdown, what has happened is we've been involved in projects for different parts of the school, which is really nice and rewarding, I think. When I first started working the archives, we were kind of a small part of the library and we just kind of got on with working on all the historical records. But because of. Working in terms of information compliance and also records management and then showing these wider kind of projects and how the records are very important to the to the legacy of the school. And yeah, I think there's never enough time to kind of catalog your records and there's never enough time to do promotion. So I think we often feel like we're on a bit of a hamster wheel. But the way to combat that is to have kind of a mining strategy, really think the direction that you want to go, but have enough flexibility to ensure that you can work on projects that come up. So for example, a few years ago, it was the school's 20th anniversary and suddenly it was all hands on deck to produce an exhibition. We need to. If you want to run the website, we need to bring your timeline. And so we have to kind of work on that. So we're quite flexible approach, but that doesn't mean we need token projects often get kind of pushed to the kind of bottom of the list of things that we need to do. That's great that the school recognizes the value of the archive, certainly. Do you do collaborations with other archives? I mean, it's most obvious Wellcome Trust, I'm sure there are many others. We do. Yeah, we do work with other institutions. So especially kind of in the area in London that we're in kind of in Bloomsbury, there's lots of other universities and colleges and so forth. So we do work with those. I'm trying to think of of an example, obviously recently, because of lockdown, we haven't had any kind of tangible the projects that we've worked on. I'm just trying to think of things that we've done in the past. We're hoping to without kind of decolonization project. I suppose that's an example of where I've spoken quite a lot of events and I thinking about working with other institutions and other institutions kind of asking kind of how we've approached the issue of becoming more inclusive and have a nice collection. So that's an example of not completely welcoming in complete collaboration, but obviously sharing knowledge and trying to kind of reach the same goal. So the decolonization project that you just mentioned there has that come about because of last year's Black Lives Matter protests or was that of before? We were thinking of it a little bit before, and that was because of a few things that were happening. There's a in global health group within LSH team and that was looking at how our colonial legacy affects how students and staff are kind of talked and how we researched insightful. So there was that element, but also the school funded a research fellow to look at our colonial history. And she worked quite extensively in the archives. So that really bore some of the issues more to our kind of attention. And then, yeah, definitely the Black Lives Matter movement last year, I think we definitely felt that we had a responsibility in terms of managing the types of records that we do. As I said, we were colonial institution. So we really felt we really needed to know more about our records and be more transparent, maybe on how we're managing them. So we came up with we did quite a lot of research. There was lots of material out there and we did some research and found it all quite overwhelming of how much information the material and the direction to kind of travel in in terms of decolonize, not collections. But through our research, we actually came up with five areas that include principles about how we're going to try and incorporate those in twelve working practices, so they cover five areas. So what I can cataloging and an example of a principle there is look, we're going to look at terminology because obviously some of the terminology that could be used on documents material from over 100 years ago could be offensive if we all know that terminology changes. So we're going to look at that, not necessarily remove that terminology, but put it more in context and make sure that it's clear that that was the creator who used that terminology and not the catalog. So we're not kind of using that terminology. In terms of our cultural practice, we're going to kind of reassess and review who we get records from, where we get records from in the past. It's a claim in institutional records, mainly white men, because that is who worked at the school, who was the researchers and so forth. But just making sure going forward that we are aware of that and not to say we're not going to collect records of white men, but we are going to try and be more open. And in terms of archives, you often, you know, collect the significant people that are really important. People talk. But we want to make sure that we are being a bit more diverse. And I'm thinking about other ways of collecting to represent the institution that we are and we're looking at dissemination. So that's another area. I think in the past for us, we've maybe become part of the problem in terms of we we use material quite a lot. And again, this links to a kind of lack of resources. one example is that on our building in Capital Street, we have the names of 26 pioneers public health and tropical medicine. 23 of those are male and on their birth dates, death dates. We used to tweet about them and go, Look at this wonderful person, you know, he's, you know, he's on our Bill Day without providing any context that they were in the colonial context and some of the things they did. You know that palatable, but we would say that we discover that's why they were there. And we're trying to get away from that completely kind of celebratory sort of message that I think I believe that we used to give out. And also for events, we would get similar material. I would just kind of say the same stories where we're going to try and change the narrative. We've done some blog posts on some of our material, so we've got a film of an expedition to Africa in the 1930s. And again, we show this like, Wow, this is wonderful film. It doesn't, you know, show great representation. And actually, that's from our kind of very Eurocentric point of view that actually we're trying to turn that on its head and think, Oh, I wonder what the people who were being filmed in Africa and so forth. Another area is education, such as educating ourselves. I think from that kind of position of white privilege that, you know, there are biases, there are conscious and unconscious biases that we will deal with. So just educating ourselves on diversity and inclusion, and that includes taking on more roles within the school where I work, I've become an anti-bullying and harassment advisor. I'm a cosmetic association diversity ally. So again, just taking on more roles kind of like it's it's not purely based on the archives and the finding, just looking at inclusivity. So in terms of how recruitment practices. It's very well known that the profession is predominantly white and just thinking how we recruit again, it comes up sometimes consent resources. You're on a trip when you need to recruit a century of time and you use the same questions and the same competencies, and therefore you often recruit the same people, same type of of people. So we're kind of trying to turn that on its head and think about how we can do things differently. So those kind of principles, we've got an operational plan and we're trying to work through them. And just doing it that way more strategically to us has made a lot of sense and we've made quite slow progress in different areas and we've been asked to talk from other areas in school kind of die department with special events with them, and they've asked us to comment on some of their resources. They're kind of coming up with toolkits on decolonizing the curriculum. So in terms of the development of the archive, it's been really kind of it's been a very interesting period. The majority of this has been done during lockdown, and I think that's given us the opportunity to do it because before that, we would have been running the day to day archive service. We wouldn't have time to kind of devote to Tibetan in as much detail. I really think for our service, it's been a really great development and I'm really proud of. Really interesting that you really thought it through clearly and you want to make sure you do it right. Yeah, there's a lot of interest from that. Grassroots organizations and then government is also kind of weighing in on the interests. You have a list of topics that you want to attack, and it sounds like really put a lot of thought into that that really positively outcome. Or do you have any other hopes for the future of the archive? What what do you have in your sights? Oh, I'm hoping to get a bit more funding, hopefully, either externally or internally. I think what we'd like to do is catalog some of our collections. And this links to, again, what decolonization project I think when we did the which that claim history project is a lot of focus on the earlier periods that went up to the 1960s. But I think it would be really interesting for people to look at the 1960s onwards when countries were becoming independent, especially some countries in Africa . We have researchers who work in Africa, and it it'd be interesting to look at what the differences were after independence or whether there were any differences to how people worked there. And the British influence in those countries. So we're hoping to get some funding for those elections. And I think just continue with our kind of decolonizing kind of education ourselves and hopefully make tangible kind of changes that someone had asked me how you're going to measure what you've done? And it is quite tricky. In some ways we can say, well, we reviewed X amount of collections and we reviewed our policies. But in terms of we want to say we want to become more inclusive and open to researchers, which we assumed we were. But. That's from our point of view, that's not from a research point of view. So when you really think how we can measure kind of the changes we make in terms of our research and how they they use the collections, so that's something we'll be working on in the future. So in your archive, it's got a lot of signed papers, which some people may think are not for them, but what is your favorite item that appeals to you on a personal level? That's quite a tricky one. Well, it's interesting, I think what might decolonizing perspective, I used to say there's a diary of a couple that went to Uganda in the 1930s and 1923, and they were studying sleeping sickness. And it's a beautiful, beautiful object to look at as well, and it's very varied. They've got a kind of pressed flowers in there. They've got their engagement of newspaper cuttings, they've got dinner menus, they've got amateur dramatic programs, things that were involved in it when they were in Uganda, and they both write entries into the diary. So I think that that's quite interesting to see both their perspectives and it's not kind of heartfelt their feelings, but it shows you what it did. And I used to say that was my favorite item, but actually, it's interesting looking at it from a DD colonization perspective because they were obviously very privileged. They were working in Africa and. Sometimes I feel, yeah, in the past by kind of promoting that just to such an extent without the context of why they were in Africa and how they were in Africa. But as an item, it is a beautiful item and it does open up an insight into what was happening in Uganda at that time. But I think you can't just look at it on its own. You have to provide more context. And then from another collection, I would say we've got, as I said, these badges from the HIV and AIDS collections, and they're just sometimes like comedy, condoms or comedy, which is quite nice. But I would say people just to lighten things. But yeah, just to show how, as I said, some countries kind of used comedy a more humorous ways to approach, you know, such a such a serious kind of epidemic at the time. I think it's pretty serious. Sometimes people just don't engage at all. They don't want to. They don't want to be miserable, do they? So sometimes reporters. Right, thank you so much for talking to us today. Victoria, it's been really interesting hearing about obviously a very valuable collection and still being heavily used of sort of these great sculptures using some of your material. But the work you're doing is really impressive. It's it's really pleasing to have someone not just. Just putting out a tweet saying, Oh yes, Black Lives Matter, that's really going out there and pushing boundaries and trying to improve R5, and I really hope it pays dividends when you do open access and make people feel more included. Yeah, yeah, I hope so, too. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.