Layla Essat is a Masters student in Gender Studies at the University of Stirling. This is the first of a series of articles on her project placement investigating the Stirling District Asylum archive held by the University of Stirling.
Stirling District Lunatic Asylum first opened its doors in 1869. Located in Larbert, many of its patients had been transferred from the large Royal and Private Asylums in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. Like many institutions of the time, the asylum kept extensive handwritten records, logging and chronicling all under their care. These records for a long time remained stored away and inaccessible but have now found a new home in our very own University archive.
Beginning investigation into the records, I was fairly uncertain of what I was going to find. Undertaking this project in relation to my current Gender Studies Masters at Stirling, my only initial guiding focus was to explore the collection with the aim of discovering the situation of women. With the collection as a whole spanning over a hundred years, it was immediately apparent that a large task lay ahead. In response, I refined my focus to the years 1900 – 1910.
Ploughing my way through hundreds of pages of admissions registers, a familiar phrase kept popping up as “supposed cause of insanity.” What was this G.P of the Insane and why was it wholly prevalent in married women and men? Immediately fascinated and I was intent on learning more about the female patients this affected. With a quick input into google, I soon found the gendered relationship of this illness opening up.
General Paresis otherwise known as General Paralysis of the insane was first coined in the 1830s. As the name suggests, records state that patients at the asylum suffered from broad and vague symptoms, including fatigue, headaches and insomnia. Similarly, family members reported changes in personality, concentration and memory was severely impaired. They all suffered from slurred speech and facial and bodily tremors. Most notably, and highly typical of this disease, was the presence of delusions. This disease was syphilis.
The most socially revealing symptom could be seen in the patient’s eyes and was termed Argyll Robertson pupils. Often termed “prostitute’s pupils”, they were large and unreceptive to changes in light. This discovery proved key. From this I speculated a connection between the use of prostitutes by men and the then inevitable transmission of this illness to their wives. The picture suddenly became much bigger and from here, I begin to question who the real victims in this situation were. In an age where a woman’s marital duty was to provide sex, it would prove highly difficult for these women to protect themselves from the inadvertent dangers of commercial sex. Given that symptoms could take up to 20 years to manifest, innocent wives were likely to pay the price of their husband’s pre-marital sexual encounters as well as any current ones. However, my research revealed that perhaps women caught it first- hand. The women in this asylum all came from some of the poorest sections of society. Marriage was often undertaken out of need to ensure financial security and very less often for love. “Casual Prostitutes” were women who engaged in prostitution as a side line to supplement household income, and often pushed to do so by their husbands.
This condition was otherwise termed The Great Imitator for its habit to share its symptoms with many other illnesses. I believe that this issue was far more widespread than it would first appear and suspect that many others with G.P of the Insane simply went misdiagnosed. Given the sheer number of male sufferers observed in the admissions register, I highly doubt that diagnosis of female patients with this condition to be accurate. I encountered several instances where diagnosis was changed upon death. The majority of women I encountered died in the asylum, and of the very few allowed home, prognosis would dictate that they would have died bedbound soon after.
We will perhaps never know the full plight of these women. However, the bottom lines remains; as long as society maintained the notion of a male right and need for satisfaction of sexual energies, the transmission of venereal diseases amongst prostitutes, innocent wives and their philandering husbands would continue. Bluntly, male demand directly facilitated female harm.
Layla Essat, May 2016
This spring one of the treasures of our Archives and Special Collections is setting off on a journey to Paris where it will feature in a major new exhibition on the life of the Emperor Napoleon. The volume is a British military signal book which contained detailed instructions for the garrison guarding Napoleon during his exile on the island of St Helena.
The signal book is a well-travelled volume. It was first used by Colonel Mark Wilks, Governor General of St Helena in 1815. This piece of Napoleonic memorabilia passed through the hands of a number of collectors until it was purchased at auction in New York by the family of Burt Eddy Taylor in 1928. In 1969 Mr Taylor donated his collection of Napoleonic material, including the signal book, to the new university library at Stirling. Now, in 2016 it sets sail again, for the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.
The signal book will feature in Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire, a major new exhibition looking at Napoleon’s period of exile on the mid-Atlantic island which opens on 6 April 2016. Our small, scruffy volume will take its place alongside an extensive range of items from collections across Europe which have been brought together to tell the story of Napoleon’s captivity on St Helena.
The signal book highlights the lengths the to which the British went to ensure Napoleon did not escape from the island. The inside covers illustrate the flags and signals which were to be used for communication including those for raising the alarm if Napoleon was missing. To limit the chance of rescue by his supporters a garrison of 1,300 troops was placed on the tiny island. In addition four Royal Navy ships patrolled offshore. Within the pages of the book further detailed instructions were laid out in the event of Napoleon’s absence:
‘the Signal Officers of the different posts are strictly enjoined to lose no time in communicating the intelligence personally to the places nearest them where troops may be stationed to the end that patroles may be immediately sent out in every direction to insure the impracticability of any person escaping from the island.’
The procedures put in place evidently worked. Napoleon remained on the island until his death in May 1821.
Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire
Musée de l’Armée, Paris
6th April – 24th July 2016
There is a new exhibition in the display cases in the Library. To coincide with the University’s recent Japan Week events, we have a display of books relating to Japan, some in Japanese and some in English. All of the books are from the Library’s collections.
In a period when the film critic was becoming more and more integral and popular ideas about the image began to circulate in everyday discussion, silent films, and especially their stars, became increasingly interesting to the general public. Lindsay Anderson’s personal collection of film books houses a number of picture books from this era: collections of stills and glamour shots, occasionally accompanied by descriptions of films or brief histories. These books, besides providing context, stories, and interesting pictures, are a window to two worlds – that of silent cinema and that of its ‘70s revival – which speak to our own.
The biggest difference between these picture books and the few of this kind that were published before 1970 is the shift in intended audience. Older books, like the 1959 Classics of the Silent Screen, call on people’s memories. The introduction appeals to a certain generation, stating its aims as “a rich sampling of some of the highspots of the silent era… to bring back happy memories to those who remember the films and players and to stimulate interest and an eagerness to see them among those who are too young.” For later books, like The Heart of Hollywood or Hollywood Glamor Portraits, the aim becomes more to teach readers about the past and to create a kind of glamorous nostalgia.
Sometimes, the aim is more concrete, as in “ Grandma’s Scrapbook” of Silent Movie Stars , which covertly documents the worth of famous silent actors’ signed photos and teaches readers to distinguish between real and fake signatures while still providing a dizzying collage of artfully assembled glamour shots.
Of course, there were a number of reasons for this revival of interest in Old Hollywood, whether more about the profit to be gained or the pure nostalgia involved. It has been argued that we are experiencing another such revival in the 21st century, but for a much different reason. Slideshows, articles, and “best of” lists from well-known companies like TCM or AFI have in many ways taken the place of these picture books. Widespread accessibility to the Internet means wider access to silent films which would otherwise be much more difficult to find. All the same, these books are an enjoyable window into the past, and a reminder that Old, Old Hollywood is not always so different from our own.
(Abigail Jenkins, M Litt Film, 2015)
Sunday 14th February, 3pm, Dunblane Cathedral
Concert by the Edinburgh Renaissance Band
The concert has been organised to raise funds for the Leighton Library in Dunblane, with which the University has a friendly relationship.
Tickets: £10 for adults and £5 for children/students. Available from Helen Beardsley; or Smallprint, Beech Road, Dunblane; or at the door.
See you there!
After a brief pause for breath over the xmas holidays we’re looking forward to kicking off the new year in style with a number of exciting events to report.
Our Hosts & Champions exhibition continues its tour around Scotland opening this month in Stranraer Museum and moving on to the Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch in March. We’re also in discussion with a number of other venues around the country and hope to extend our tour into the summer months. We’ll also be speaking about the Hosts & Champions project and the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive at the Sport in Museums Network Conference in Nottingham on 11th February.
Our colleagues at The Musicians’ Union: A Social History project at the University of Glasgow are holding a major conference at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, on 14th and 15th January. The project has made great use of the Musicians’ Union Archive during their research and has put together an exhibition on the history of the union which will be on display at the Mitchell Library from the 11th – 31st January. Players Work Time, a social history of the Musicians’ Union will be published in Spring 2016.
‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ is an exhibition of new artwork co-created by patients at Bellsdyke Hospital and the artist Sharon Quigley inspired by the stories of patients in the Stirling District Asylum. It opens in the university’s Pathfoot Building on Saturday 23rd January. To coincide with this exhibition a public talk on nineteenth century asylums, with particular reference to Stirling District Asylum, will be given by Dr Ian Hutchison on Thursday 11th February. The Stirling District Asylum Archive has now been cataloged and is available for use by researchers. Full details can be found here.
We’ll continue to provide updates of further projects and events throughout the year, including a trip to Paris in April for one of our ‘Treasures’…
As 2015 draws to a close its time to review another busy year for the University Archives and look at how our collections were used by researchers. As in previous years we’ve put together an end-of-year chart of our most popular collections by combining the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of material consulted by visitors to our archives reading room.
The collection which topped this year’s chart has been incredibly popular since its transfer to the University Archives in 2012. No. 1 in 2013 and no. 2 in 2014 the NHS Forth Valley Archive has retaken the top spot in 2015. The bulk of the collection relates to two local hospitals, the Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) and the Royal Scottish National Hospital, Larbert. There continues to be huge genealogical interest in the information contained in the records of the hospitals, alongside increasing academic interest in the research value of the material.
This summer the completion of the Wellcome Trust funded Continuity of Care project improved access to the collection through a programme of conservation and cataloguing of the Royal Scottish National Hospital Archive, with full details of the collection now available on our online archive catalogue.
Our No. 2 is a former chart topper (in 2012) its place in this year’s list showing the growing research interest in the collection. The Musicians’ Union Archive provides a comprehensive record of the organisation’s activity since it was founded as the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union in Manchester in 1893. Recent enquiries related to the collection have included topics as varied as female musicians in London during World War One, the working practices of cinema musicians in the silent era, international union relations, The Beatles, the impact of the synthesizer and miming on Top of the Pops. The collection also provides a rich resource for family historians researching their musical ancestors.
The Musicians’ Union Archive is also a key resource for two major AHRC funded projects, British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound (De Montfort University / University of Stirling) and The Musicians’ Union: A Social History (University of Glasgow). Some of the research carried out by these projects will be presented at the conference ‘Working in Music: The Musicians’ Union, musical labour and employment’, which will be held in Glasgow in January 2016.
As the University of Stirling heads toward its 50th anniversary in 2017 we find our own institutional archives at No. 3 in this year’s list. 2015 saw an increased interest in our own archival resources both within the university and from external researchers. The University Archive holds the official history of the institution in its minute books, reports and publications. It also preserves the unofficial story of life on campus through student newspapers, memorabilia and oral history interviews with retired staff and alumni.
Before we end our review of 2015 an honourable mention should go to our film-related collections. The personal and working papers of three Scottish filmmakers took fourth, fifth and sixth places on our chart (Lindsay Anderson, John Grierson and Norman McLaren). If combined these film archives would have topped the list, their continued popularity showing the wealth of material relating to the history of cinema held in our collections.
Outside the archives reading room our most seen collection was undoubtedly our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive. Our touring Hosts & Champions exhibition, which celebrates over 80 years of Scottish participation and achievement in the Commonwealth Games, has visited a variety of venues across Scotland this year, starting its tour in Irvine in March and ending the year at Dumfries Museum. The exhibition will continue its tour in the new year visiting Stranraer in January and Kirkintilloch in March. We’ll provide further information about the Hosts & Champions touring programme and other exciting projects and events taking place in 2016 in the new year.
Those results in full:
1. NHS Forth Valley
2. Musicians’ Union
3. University of Stirling
1. Norman McLaren
2. NHS Forth Valley
3. Commonwealth Games Scotland
1. NHS Forth Valley
2. Musicians’ Union
3. Norman McLaren
Further details of previous end of year reviews can be found here.
Students taking a new course on Interpretation and Exhibition Design have created two new displays in the university library using material from our archive collections. The third year undergraduate students were given the task of exploring our John Grierson and Norman McLaren archives and researching, planning and installing exhibitions based on material in the collections.
The two displays focus on particular aspects of the work of the two Stirling-born filmmakers chosen by the students. The display in the archives reading room cases looks at John Grierson’s time at the GPO Film Unit, which he joined in 1933. The library wall features material relating to Norman McLaren’s experiments with hand-drawn images and sound, with particular reference to his 1940 film Dots.
The exhibitions will be on display in the university library until Friday 26 February 2016.
The latest exhibition in the Library commemorates the 300th anniversary of the 1715 Jacobite Rising. The display includes books, manuscripts, artwork and artefacts from the University Library’s collections, as well as some books and broadsides from partner institutions – the Library of Innerpeffray (http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/) and the Leighton Library in Dunblane (http://www.spanglefish.com/leightonlibrary/).
You can see the exhibition during November, and then again in the New Year.
Senior Subject Librarian (Arts and Humanities)
‘We Have Tomorrow’: Peter Mackay and the Liberation Movement in Southern Africa
University of Stirling Library
5.30pm, Tuesday 22nd September 2015
The University of Stirling Archives invites you to an event to celebrate the donation of the papers of Peter Mackay (1926-2013), a key figure in the independence movements of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi). Born into a Scottish family with strong links to Doune, Mackay served in the Scots Guards, where he became the youngest captain in the Brigade, before emigrating to Southern Rhodesia in 1948. There he rejected the attitudes prevalent in the white community and served as a key organiser for the multiracial Capricorn Society founded by Colonel David Stirling, also from the Doune area. In 1956, however, he resigned from the Capricorn Society and over the next quarter of a century devoted himself to the cause of African liberation in Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia, becoming actively involved with nationalist leaders such as Yatuta Chisiza in Nyasaland and James Chikerema and George Nyandoro in Rhodesia. Following the establishment of majority rule in Zimbabwe, he took up the cause of the impoverished people of Omay on the shores of Lake Kariba. His volume of memoirs, We Have Tomorrow: Stirrings in Africa, 1959-1967 provides remarkable insights into Southern African nationalism in its most principled phase.
The event will begin with a public lecture by Dr John McCracken (author of A History of Malawi) on ‘Peter Mackay and the role of White Activists in the Nationalist Struggle in Malawi and Zimbabwe.’ The lecture will be followed by an opportunity to view a selection of material from the Peter Mackay Archive in our archives reading room.
To reserve a place at the event, or to find out more about the collection, please email us at email@example.com