First training session

Geoff Browell
King's College London
Senior Archives Services Manager
The first full day training session took place on 29th October in King’s College Archives. Andrea Tanner delivered the first, morning, session on the changes which have taken place in framing medical vocabularies and terminology since the nineteenth century. She focused on her experience in helping to develop the Historic Hospital Admission Records Project (HHARP), which in the first instance drew on admission registers belonging to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Andrea explained how HHARP,  which began in 2001, was an early example of crowdsourcing using volunteers managed by a central team – in this case one based in the University of Kingston. She described how the team harnessed the enthusiasm and diverse expertise of family historians and a constituency of mainly retired professionals. The digitisation and transcription of original source material posed challenges, not least relating to handwriting: doctors’ notes from mid-Victorian physicians and surgeons are often as indecipherable as current records. Data Protection legislation also makes the release of personal medical records an important consideration – and only records over 100 years are published.

The main focus of her talk was the classification of diseases and mapping to current standards, such as the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases ( ICD10). The sheer variety of disease description, which might include a multiplicity of spellings for each disease, had to be reflected in the database and its search parameters. The HHARP team work closely with a team of experts including doctors and historians of medicine to devise a classification for disease based on where on the human body it presented.  Andrea then tested our knowledge of antique disease-names with a practical exercise in which the students divided into teams to locate diseases on a full sized drawing of the human body. Much fun ensued!

The serious point was that students should think carefully about how to construct a clear information architecture at the start of a project. In the case of HHARP, this required mapping or translating terminology to reflect how our understanding of disease and its causes has changed over time. It also requires the careful consideration of potential audiences and how they will potentially re-use data in unforeseen ways that are outside the scope of the original project to support interdisciplinarity or new trends in scholarship. Both the database and online interface must ideally be able to accommodate this variety.

The second session from Ken Norman of New Tricks aimed to provide students with an introduction to the basic principles of good communication and public speaking. Ken focused on the role of good planning, researching an audience, time management, using PowerPoint effectively, and structuring a talk for maximum impact. Lively engagement with an audience, the power of storytelling and techniques for dealing with difficult questions were also covered in this session. Interesting questions from students included the potential cultural differences of papers, talks and symposia around the world.

The third session from Melissa Terras of University College London was a fascinating insight into the power of blogging to promote research. Melissa provided startling statistical,analytical and anecdotal evidence drawn from her her own experience of blogging to show the reach of social media and its potential to make different audiences aware of new research, projects and publications, when compared with traditional methods of dissemination. She stressed the role of the blog in complementing the publication cycle by providing a quick ‘taster’ introduction to work-in-progress and findings that can be published much more quickly than in print. The role of blogging in promoting an individual’s personal research profile and status within their discipline and institution was also emphasised.

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Andrea Tanner
Fortnum and Mason