All aboard the SS Templemore

‘We embarked on Friday 10th November, but owing to bad weather did not leave L/pool [Liverpool] until 12.30 noon on 12th November’

so reads an entry in a small notebook which is part of one of the treasures of our archives – the Sir Frederick Smith Collection.Burying a horse at sea

Smith sailed for South Africa  on the 12 November 1899 with the 13th Hussars aboard the S.S. Templemore.  This little book is his record of the veterinary care he gave on board as well as in later operations in Natal including the Battle of Colenso, Vaal Krantz and Brakfontein.

In his book A veterinary history of the war in South Africa Smith describes two ways in which horses were transported overseas – they were either carried with the troops on transport ships or they went on board freight ships.

He states that animals conveyed in freight ships suffered ‘a great disadvantage,’ when compared to those on transport ships, as they were accompanied by less experienced men who had many more horses in their care.  So the horses on board the SS Templemore could be classed as lucky!

Two days into the voyage, on 14th November, the entry in the notebook records the first fatalities like this ’C127 strangulation, found dead, C57 staggers, died, C118 staggers, died in 2 hours’.  It is not clear what C127 etc refers to – perhaps it refers to the location of the horse on the ship or it may be the number attached to the horse by the army.

Races on board the SS TemplemoreOver the course of the 4 weeks of the voyage the notebook records a total of 12 deaths and numerous conditions from which the horses recovered.  The only entry for 28th November records Smith’s own sickness – ‘I was ill in bed all day’.

We also have an album of photos in the Smith Collection which contains a number taken on board the SS Templemore.  These include a photo of a horse being buried at sea, a rather dark image of some animals on the horse deck, and some more light hearted images of  the troops keeping fit by racing each other around the ship and doing exercises as part of their physical drill.

If you can shed light on what C127 etc means do let us know.

Smith, Frederick (1919) A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 London  H. & W. Brown

Images: photographs from the album in the Smith Collection

Horses and the problem of sore backs

“Sore backs appear inseparable from mounted service, they have existed as long as the horse has been used in war … it was reasonable to suppose … as knowledge advanced, a reduction in this class of injury should have been possible.”

So says Frederick Smith in his book A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 (item id 003722) in the section on the history of sore backs.  He then goes on to claim that in the 40 years following the Battle of Waterloo all “the lessons of war appear to have been forgotten.”

Later campaigns meant that the topic became a matter for discussion again. In the early 1880s General Sir Frederick FitzWygram, Commander of the Cavalry Brigade, studied the problem showing that it was often the construction of the saddle that was to blame.

Smith - skeleton of a horse shoing back bone and ribs

Smith’s Skeleton of horse showing back bone and ribs

The topic then became the subject of a series of lectures, delivered by Smith, at the Army Veterinary School in Aldershot. These lectures were eventually published in 1891 as A manual of saddles and sore backs (item id 26542).

The manual is set out in four sections: the first covers the anatomy and physiology of the back because, as Smith states, “no accurate conception of the fitting of a saddle … can be formed until we have some knowledge of the structure on which the saddle rests.” This is followed by 16 pages on the construction of a saddle, 8 pages of instruction on how to fit one properly and finally 17 pages on ‘sore backs – how they are caused, prevented and remedied.’  The book contains 11 illustrations – 6 are anatomical, 5 on fitting a saddle with the final one showing the sites of the various injuries.

In spite of the lectures and manual it would appear that little changed – when referring to the South African War Smith states that “sore backs represented one of the chief causes of inefficiency.”

Smith - How to fit a girth correctly

Smith – How to fit a girth correctly

This view is also expressed by William Snowball Mulvey in his little (20 page) book Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign (item id 26379) which was published in 1902. Sore backs had been the topic of Mulvey’s RCVS Fellowship Thesis and one of the reasons for this choice was “The fact that nine out of every ten cases which came before my notice in South Africa were the so-called sore backs.” By publishing his thesis Mulvey hoped to make his observations more widely available.

The book is very much a practical manual – it identifies 9 causes of sore backs and  then shows how to prevent the injuries occurring in the first place – as Mulvey says in his closing words “the rational treatment of sore backs, is of course, the removal of the cause.”

Interested in finding out more? The notes and illustrations Smith made when carrying out research for his lectures and manual form part of the Frederick Smith Collection , they provide a fascinating insight into the meticulous way Smith carried out his rearch on this topic.


Mulvey, William Snowball (1902) Sore back and its causes in army horses on a campaign . Fellowship theses later published by H & W Brown

Smith, Fred (1891) A manual of saddles and sore backs London: HMSO

Smith, Frederick (1919) A veterinary history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 London: H. & W. Brown

Three Williams – all veterinary pioneers

Plaque to 19th century veterinary pioneers

Plaque celebrating 19th century veterinary pioneers

When  I walk past this plaque on the staircase in Belgravia House I often think about who we would include if we were to update it.

The RCVS annual report for 1924/25 records the plaque as being funded by an anonymous donor; however there are a series of letters in the Frederick Smith Collection which show that it was Smith himself who funded the memorial at a cost of £10.

He gave precise instructions as to the wording and how it should look, writing on 19 September 1924 that “the letters should be black and the plate should receive a thoroughly good golden lacquer which will prevent it tarnishing for years.”

On 22 February 1925 he asks that the text of the plaque be reproduced in The Veterinary Record so “that many men will hear of Moorcroft and Youatt before they die.”  He believed that “all know the name of Percivall”  though you could question if that really was the case as Percivall had died 70 years earlier.

Given Smith’s passion for the history of the profession it makes sense for him to want to renew interest in these pioneers of the 19th century.  I wonder if it worked?

As for 20th century veterinary pioneers, we might be too close to make a balanced judgement but my suggestion would be John McFadyean.

Who would yours be?

South African War Diaries

In  1900, Frederick Smith was serving as a veterinary officer in the South African War.  The entries in his official war diary for August of that year show that the focus of his attention at that time was on finding a new site for the veterinary hospital which he had responsibility for.

The hospital was full to capacity with horses suffering from glanders and sore back.   On 13 August, Smith notes in his diary that in the previous week they had admitted 666 horses and mules of which 6 had died, 150 had been destroyed and 64 had been sent for duty.  When added to the existing animals in the hospital this gave a total of  1011.

There were also some staffing difficulties to contend with, speaking of one of the hospital staff he writes:

 “Clarke did not know a single case in the place, says he cannot remember them!  I have given him one more chance.” [16 August]

However, in true British style, the main thing that was concerning Smith seems to have been the weather as it “rained the whole day” and “rained all night.” This was causing problems for the animals “the horses are over their fetlocks in clay.  Walking can only be done by painfully putting each foot alternately in progression”.  There was also an ever present  threat of the imminent flooding of the hospital if the river rose much more.

On 30 August Smith took his Commanding Officer to see the two places he had identified as possible new locations for the hospital but these were ruled out because of “military considerations … the defences of the town are to be … contracted” which would have left them exposed to attack.

The CO identified another site which Smith didn’t like at all “owing to the difficulty of watering, the banks being nearly vertical & quite 50 feet above the river.”  Fortunately the CO later changed his mind and rejected the site because it would have taken too long to prepare.

Smith's sketch of the new hospital

Smith’s sketch of the new hospital

Finally on 1 September a new site was suggested on the north bank of the river.   This met with Smith’s approval as it was surrounded by the river giving “complete protection in the event of an attack”, it had “sandy ground” and the low banks of the river “allowed water to be pumped up easily.”   He rapidly planned the hospital drawing a sketch of what it would look like.  It was to “have six kraals each holding 100 horses, and lines for another 400… the kraals will be well built, mangers will be supplied.”

Work started on 2nd September when Smith writes “Tomorrow and the whole of next week will be occupied getting the place right.”   I hope it was compeleted before the weather got any worse!

These official war diaries, which cover the period 1899-1902,  form a small part of the Frederick Smith Collection which also  includes notes relating to his research and publications, reprints of his published articles, handwritten notes for his autobiography, photographs and notes relating to the Army Veterinary Service and letters written between 1877-1929.

Verbose and tedious…yet pearls in profusion

When writing blogs about veterinary authors I usually turn to Frederick Smith’s four volume work  The early history of veterinary literature and its British development to see what he has to say.  It is unusual to find that Smith does not have an opinion on the author or book in question.

Portrait of Sir Frederick Smith

Portrait of Sir Frederick Smith

We are fortunate to have a large archive of Smith’s material and I know, both from  the sheer volume of material and  the  exhaustive nature of the enquiries (into the content of the book and the background of the author) that are revealed in the papers, that his opinions are based on extensive research though sometimes expressed in colourful language.

Of  Bracy Clark, featured in my last blog post, he has this to say:

“Clark’s style of writing is always verbose and tedious …He perpetually wanders from his subject, so that fragments bearing on the same question crop up in the most unlikely places.  All his works have to be read and annotated in order to collect his views on any subject, especially as he never provides an index.”

He balances this with the following:

“No writer in the profession before or since Clark’s day has brought to bear such a degree of scholarship.  He takes us step by step through a wealth of learning and establishes his point…He had spent years in the study of Latin and Greek, and his deep knowledge of these subjects is reflected in his communications.”

Smith ends his discussion of Clark’s writings by quoting William Percivall in The Veterinarian (1854 p218) who said “No man, perhaps, ever wrote so learnedly so much to so little purpose”.  He agrees that this is indeed the case yet insists within Clark’s works  “pearls there are in profusion.”

If you are doing research on veterinary authors or particular books why not visit us to look at Smith’s research notes and then take a look at the items themselves and see if you agree with his conclusions.

The section on Bracy Clark is in  The early history of veterinary literature and its British development Volume 3 p35-58, it includes a list of around 70 of Clark’s publications.

What makes an item unique

At the recent Veterinary History Society meeting in Edinburgh  I took part in a panel discussion with a number of archivists. One of the things we were asked to discuss was what we particularly liked about our collections.

I had given this some thought but hadn’t really decided what I would say as there are so many things I like:  the window the material can provide into individuals lives; the beautiful illustrations, and the little things you come across by chance eg the tiny paper PDSA flag pinned to the corner of a letter from one of their supporters.

So what did I say? Well none of the above!  What I chose to talk about was how I was always thrilled to find dedications and annotations which, whilst we may have multiple copies of a book in our collection, make that particular item unique.

I have been thinking about this since and thought I would share one of my favourite examples of this in an ordinary looking book labelled ‘Clark’s veterinary treatises Vol 1’.

Contents list compiled by Bracy Clark

Contents list compiled by Bracy Clark

The book is a collection of 34 works by Bracy Clark.  Pasted into the inside is a handwritten sheet listing the contents.  The first work listed is  Hippodonomia, or the true structure, laws, and economy, of the horse’s foot also podophthora … which was written in 1829

Turning to pages 47-48 of the Podophthora we find Clark discussing the shuttle bone:

“[It is] sometimes fixed by this general contraction of parts, and is found adhering to the flexor tendon…No case of this sort had occurred to me… I have since ascertained that though such exist, they are comparatively cases of great rarity”.

At the foot of page 48 someone has added “I afterwards found it was more frequent than I at first believed at this period…”

Bracy Clark's later addition

Bracy Clark’s later addition

The phraseology leads me to believe that this is Bracy Clark saying that he has changed his mind about the rarity of this problem.

Looking back to the front of the item there is a very faint pencil note above the contents list, in what I know to be Frederick Smith’s handwriting, which reads:

“I take it the list is in Bracy Clark’s handwriting …it goes with a footnote … which evidently is him”

Annotation by Frederick Smith

Annotation by Frederick Smith

So a volume of Clark’s works, of which we have several, is not just  another one, it is – or would appear to be – unique in that Clark compiled it or at least owned it for long enough to list the contents and, more importantly, to note a development in his thinking.

As a final thought I wonder what libraries/archives would make of Frederick Smith and his pencil annotations these days?  It is not unusual to find ‘evidence’ of his research for the Early history of veterinary literature  in books in our collections.  I expect nowadays he would at the very least be ‘discouraged’ but looking at them nearly a century later they do add something to the individual items!

“A Good Deal of Spade Work” – The RCVS Archives Project

In June this year, RCVS Knowledge were thrilled to announce that the Alborada Trust had provided funding for a five year project to catalogue, preserve and digitise the Historic Collection and Archive of the Royal College. Now, five months later, it is time to update you with the progress that has been made so far!

One of the first steps of the project was to employ a qualified Archivist, to oversee the execution of the project, including the cataloguing, recruitment of a digitisation assistant, and development of the digital platform which will provide greater access to the collections.

That Archivist is me!

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

I’m Lorna Cahill, and I started working here at RCVS Knowledge six weeks ago. Previously I have worked in the Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Natural History Museum, and Royal Holloway, University of London. I have lots of experience working with material from the 19th century, particularly relating to science and education. So this post is a perfect fit! I am incredibly excited to delve deep into these fascinating collections, and to draw out some of the stories and characters and share them with the public. I hope to regularly update this blog, and the @RCVSKnowledge Twitter feed, with interesting bits and bobs I find along the way. So keep an eye out for those.

Archivist's Desk at RCVS Knowledge

This is where you will find me for the next five years!

So what have I been up to for the past six weeks – and what’s the next step of the project?

Happily for me, my main task thus far is exploring the collection. I need to get an idea of what the collections contain, the context around the material, who the people are that created the papers, and how best to look after them. It didn’t take me long to realise that I would first need boxes. Lots and lots of Archive boxes.

Archive Boxes

Tower of empty Archive boxes ready to house collections

First I took a sample of papers by Connie Ford MRCVS (1912-1998), who worked for the Veterinary Investigation Service for nearly 30 years. She was a specialist in cattle fertility, and I very soon got used to reading a lot about bull testicles and cow abortions (archives work is not always so glamorous!). The research carried out by Ford seems incredibly thorough and there is a great deal of data for me to sift through. However, sometimes it can be rather touching, such as this list of cow abortions. Poor Betty, Shirley and Joyce.

Ford Cow Abortions

Research data from the papers of Connie Ford

The collection I will be focussing on for the near future is that of Major General Sir Frederick Smith MRCVS (1857-1929). Smith served with the Army Veterinary Service during the Second Boer War, and was eventually appointed Director General in 1907. He wrote several veterinary manuals and histories of the veterinary profession, and carried out extensive research. I have just looked through nearly 20 years of correspondence between Smith and Fred Bullock, Secretary of RCVS, which has revealed to me a great deal about Smith’s character. I even found Smith’s prediction, in 1920, that one day I would come along to curate his papers:

Excerpt from Letter from Smith to Fred Bullock, 8 Jan 1920

“I am leaving all my books, papers, notes &c to the College with one or two exceptions. If I live long enough I will index the papers & notes still in M.S, they may save some man a good deal of spade work.”

It has taken 95 years, but finally someone is giving them all the attention they deserve. However, he couldn’t predict that it would be a woman!

Smith’s handwriting is a little challenging to read, so I certainly do have my work cut out for me. But I look forward to spending the next few months with Fred Smith, and helping everyone else get to know him better too.


RCVS Archives Project: Next steps

As you will have gathered from the previous blog by our Archivist Lorna, the Archives Project here at RCVS Knowledge is well under way. Whilst Lorna is currently getting to grips with the collections (and Fred Smith’s handwriting) I have been recruited to work on the digital side of things.


My name is Adele and since the beginning of January I’ve been working on the project as Archive and Digitisation Assistant. My role is to carry out the digitisation of priority documents within the archive and historical book collection, this includes preparing the material with preservation and repackaging measures, creating the high resolution digital images, writing descriptions and relevant metadata for the scans and uploading them onto an online digital archive. Around this I will also be assisting Lorna with promotion of the project through social media, displays and outreach activities such as talks. Once awareness of our collections grows and the enquiries come flying in I look forward delving into the collections to answer some of these too.

Previously I’ve worked as Archive Trainee at Rambert Dance Company and as the Archive and Special Collections Assistant at University of the Arts, London. Though I’ve worked with digital images within archive collections before- as well as taking on ad hoc digitisation- this project is on a whole new scale for me. I’m so excited to get our online digital archive up and running, it’s great to work in a project with such defined goals and to join at this early stage allowing me to be part of the decision making process. There are certainly many decisions to be made!

The first aspect of my role I looked into was the scanning itself. The library had already purchased a professional high resolution scanner so I was able to get straight on with comparing different settings. We want these scans to be of high quality and available in years to come so we chose to scan into TIFF format as this is uncompressed; it means it is excellent quality and 100% of the data captured during scanning is retained. For our printed text based images we want to our users to be able to search the text within them, from a TIFF file we are able to create a PDF document that we can perform optical character recognition on in order for this to be possible. We were also concerned with how easy it would be to read our images on a screen. After some in house-testing, it was decided that scanning images in greyscale provided more contrast. As the real value in our historical books and journals is the information within them, we made a decision to scan this type of material in greyscale. For images and archive material we will likely be scanning in colour to better represent the unique material context of these documents.

Veterinarian greyscale 75

The Veterinarian scanned in greyscale. Easy to read and a much more efficient file size to store.

Smith letter colour 75

Letter to Frederick Smith. If this were scanned in greyscale would we see that the annotations were made at separate times?

[Edit: These images have been compressed and resized, and do not reflect the quality of the images to be displayed in the digital archive.]

Of course once I had decided how I was going to scan the material, I needed to know what to scan. A priority list has been made by Clare our Head of Library and Information Services in agreement with our funders The Alborada Trust. This was based on demand, what is already accessible online elsewhere and predicted research value. As Lorna is currently in the process of cataloguing the first archive collection, it made the most sense for me to start with our historical book and journal collection and so I am currently working on scanning volumes of The Veterinarian. The Veterinarian, published from 1828 to 1902, was one of the first veterinary journals to be launched and we hold a complete run of the periodical bound by volume. I’m currently digitising the third volume and I can see why it has been chosen as a priority- there are some really interesting case studies and comments on the profession at that time.

The Veterinarian shelves (2)

Volumes of The Veterinarian 1828-1902

Now we have some digitised pages to work with, Lorna and I are trialling some Digital Asset Management systems for the most important part of the process – making the images accessible to you online. We hope to be able to give you an update on this soon.

If you are interested in our collections then follow the hashtag #vetarchives on our twitter account @RCVSKnowledge for some updates, fun discoveries and more.

If you have any questions for the Archives Project team, please email us


Cataloguing Fred Smith Part 1: Asking questions

What are they

Annotation by Fred Smith in a notebook

Now that over seven months have passed since I started this project – it is time for another update!

Most of my time so far has involved looking closely at all of the archive material relating to Major General Sir Frederick Smith, which is the first stage of cataloguing the collection. I needed to look through all 49 boxes of the papers so that I could get a broad idea of the type of content, the recurring themes, and any existing structure in the collection.

Files in cupboard

The Smith papers had been kept in loose piles in several cupboards here at the RCVS

I created a spreadsheet to record this information, one file at a time, making notes to summarise the contents. This early stage of recording information is very important, as I will rely on this spreadsheet to help me make decisions about how to organise the files, as it would be impractical to get all the actual files out at once to compare them.

The decisions I needed to make relate to the following questions: what does this material record? Why did Smith create this? What aspects of Smith’s life and work does this relate to? When did Smith create this? Does it relate to the items before and after it? Do these items belong together, according to Smith’s original order, or did he mean to keep them separate?


Screen cap of my spreadsheet of data

Whilst I recorded the answers to these questions, I needed to try and think like Smith and also think like a potential researcher using these collections. It is impossible for me to inhabit the mind of a long dead Army veterinarian, and it is impossible for me to predict the specific research interests of every future archive user. Therefore I needed to ensure I was two things – conscientious and consistent.

Being conscientious means I accurately record the condition and situation in which I found the material.  There are ‘clues’ that Smith left for me: changes in his handwriting; evidence of papers that were stapled or glued together, but separated over time. However, I must not automatically assume material is connected. Sometimes I made note that two items might be connected, but it is impossible to be sure. If I wrongly grouped things together, a researcher may infer a shared context between the items. For example, a photograph of a battlefield stored between a letter from an ex-comrade of Smith’s, and undated manuscript notes about the Boer War. It is either possible that the photograph was sent to Smith by his friend, or that he used the photograph to inform his notes. Or neither. Or both! I cannot know, but if I maintain the photograph’s proximity to the other documents, a future researcher can make that decision for themselves. Similarly, I made sure I kept together things that definitely relate to each other, as a loose photograph of an anonymous battlefield loses its context once separated from the letter and notes.

Nervous system

Files of loose papers with no obvious order were kept as they were found whenever possible

Consistency is also key – both in terms of what I decided a document is about, and the words I used to describe it. Future researchers can then trust my catalogue to point them to everything they want, and only what they want. For example, there are letters in which Smith states his views on how veterinary surgeons are perceived compared to medical doctors. In my spreadsheet, I used words and phrases that describe the subject, e.g. “status of veterinary profession”, and continued to use that exact phrase when Smith writes about it again. Ideal words and phrases are broad enough to be conceivably used by a researcher as a search term in the catalogue. However, if they are too broad, e.g “medicine” they will apply to so many items they will be effectively useless at narrowing down results. Fortunately, Smith had already organised his papers, and annotated many notes and articles with a clear subject title, and so I was able to use his own terminology whenever appropriate.

Put with physiology files

“Put with Physiology files” – Smith made annotations on his papers, which helped him organise his files, and also left instructions for a future biographer to find

Once I had finished my spreadsheet of 299 files of papers, I was ready to move onto the next stage – arrangement into a hierarchy – which I will discuss in my next blog post.

Boxes in cupboard

The papers have been re-housed in acid free archive boxes, to prevent any further damage

Cataloguing Fred Smith Part 2: Order from chaos

In my previous blog post about cataloguing Fred Smith, I had got as far as a huge database of information about all of the papers in the collection. In this post I will describe the next stage of the process – archival arrangement.

An archivist’s job, when making historic material more accessible to researchers, is to provide information about the documents which they have gained from looking at the collection as a whole. Whilst going through the material with such close attention, I learned a great deal about Smith’s life, working habits, and the subjects that particularly interested him. This has helped to inform my ideas about the best way to organise his papers, in a way that accurately reflects how Smith worked. I began to think about some possible divisions I could make, judging from Smith’s filing. For example, he kept separate files of articles, manuscript notes and newspaper cuttings about each system of the equine body. These are most likely related to his book Veterinary Physiology, but were probably also consulted and added to as he wrote numerous articles about more specific physiological subjects. Therefore I decided that all research notes for physiological matters should be kept together.

When thinking about all this material together, it is much easier to work with physical pieces of paper. So I printed out my database and cut apart each row to represent a file.

Pile of slips

My database of information printed out, with each slip representing a separate file of papers.

Laying out the slips

The slips filled a table in one of our meeting rooms – 299 in total!

Adele and I then divided my slips up into piles for each of my initial divisions.

Chair for each series

Dividing the slips into separate ‘series’ of related content.

Anything that didn’t obviously fit into one of these piles, I looked at again to get a better idea. I often find that it is necessary to make initial decisions and then see how they fit the material, and then make new decisions as a result. It is often not until you have an idea in mind, and you try to apply that in practice, either successfully or not, that you can move forward.

Once I was happy with my first collection of seven separate piles, I set about sub-dividing the largest ones. I was then heading towards proper archival arrangement.

Whiteboard arrangement

Subdividing the groups of files, to show more specific themes.

Archival arrangement is a method of organising archive documents so that a researcher can understand from the catalogue how each item relates to other items, the historical context in which it was created, and which specific items are relevant to their interests. Usually this arrangement is structured in a hierarchy, with a level representing the whole collection at the top, and then divided down into lower levels which represent smaller subdivisions, until at the bottom you have a level with single items, such as one letter or notebook. When this hierarchy is put into a catalogue, the archivist writes descriptions at each level, providing information with the appropriate amount of detail i.e. from the general to the specific.

CALM Tree structure

Screen-cap of the hierarchical ‘tree’ demonstrating the structure of the collection.

In the above example, the whole collection is about Frederick Smith, so at the top level I will describe what the collection contains as a whole, e.g. papers relating to Smith’s working life, in the Army Veterinary Service and as a published author, and his interaction with the veterinary profession. I have now decided to divide the collection into three discrete parts: research notes Smith accumulated for his various published books and articles; papers which were created in the course of Smith’s career as a veterinarian and as part of the Armed services; and correspondence between Smith and various other individuals. These are all divided further, e.g. within the research notes section, the papers are divided again into five ‘series’, which relate to broad subject areas Smith researched, such as military history. This series has been divided again into two ‘sub-series’: one relating to the work of army veterinarians, and the other relating to all other aspects of military activities. Within these sub-series there are multiple separate files, which were kept as files by Smith himself, and so will not be broken up. I will describe each file in detail on the catalogue, using the keywords I entered in the database. This will enable researchers to quickly find any files relevant to their interests, but from the hierarchy they can see that this file is one of several on a broader topic, and so they may want to browse through the related files. Likewise, a researcher may use a broad term for their searching, and their results may find ‘series’ level records. They will then be able to see that within the series, there are many more specific files, and being able to eliminate some files will save them valuable time. Also, if a researcher does not have to look through files unrelated to their project, it means the fragile documents are not unnecessarily handled, which also ensures better long term preservation of the material.

Now that I have created my hierarchy structure, my next few months will be spent describing the files in detail, and adding this information to the catalogue. I will talk about archival description in a third blog post in the near future.

In the mean time, if you would like to know more about Frederick Smith’s papers, please do not hesitate to contact us here at RCVS Knowledge.