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Outreach in RCSI's Heritage Collections - Explore Your Archive 2017

This week has seen the Explore Your Archive Week 2017 campaign in full swing, with some wonderful archives being discovered, explored & showcased in really original and imaginative ways. 

The Archives Week campaign is designed for archives of all kinds throughout Ireland and the UK, with its main aim being to increase public awareness of the essential role of archives in our society, to celebrate our network of collections and emphasise the skills and professionalism of the sector.
RCSI Heritage Collections see this campaign as a brilliant opportunity to not only showcase our own historical treasures but also to open them up to new & diverse audiences, those that wouldn't necessarily have regular contact with archives or are new to the use of primary historical sources.
With this in mind we decided to organise a hands-on, Archive focused workshop with a group of transition year students from CBS Secondary School, Westland Row, Dublin 2. The event was a collaboration with RCSI REACH Program which is a college based, community outreach and access programme, that promotes recreation education and community health particularly with those from Dublin's south inner city. A part of their programme, is their partnership with some local post primary schools on the design and delivery of education initiatives including science workshops, sports and health programmes and an education information service.
The workshop 'Getting to know Heritage Collections of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland' was held over a morning and consisted of a group of 15 local TY students along with their history teacher. The purpose of their visit was for them to learn a little about the history of the college, get to know what types of collections we hold in RCSI's Heritage Collections, and also give them the opportunity to be an archivist for the morning by assisting in cataloguing some of our own Heritage Collection items.
After a brief introduction by RCSI Archivist, Susan Leyden, the group was divided into 3 groups of 5 students and each group was given one document, one photograph and one historical medical instrument to work with. With each of these items they were given a tailored worksheet to help them evaluate and analyse the items closely so as to be able to form a suitable description for each of the items. White gloves & pencils were distributed amongst them and they set off on their task.

This was the first time for many of the students to come in contact with such unique and historical items so there were plenty of 'ooooohs' and 'aaaaaahs' from the offset. The worksheet method proved really successful and was an engaging tool for them to use in trying to understand the origin, provenance and description of each item. Items included a photograph from our Thomas Parke collection of an expedition made to Africa in the early 1900's, a diary entry from 1887 from the Abraham Colles collection writing about how to 'preserve your Health while in the tropics', a short and sweet letter written to John Freeman Knott by his young daughter at the turn of the 19th century and a stomach pump used in the mid 1800's in its original wooden case.
The students were both fascinated and engaged and had plenty of questions about each of the items. Some of the answers, especially those about the medical instruments, caused some squeals of horror but for the most part they could handle the gorey details of what and how the instruments were used for. We did warn them that Medical History was not for the faint-hearted!
This is a great way for school children to learn about the value of working with primary sources such as archives. By letting them hold a piece of history in their hands they can visualise and learn about what life was like back in that particular time and see how much society has developed since then. We hope that the students got out as much as we did from the workshop and we at RCSI Library & Heritage Collections were delighted to welcome a new audience to the wonderful world of Archives!!

RCSI's Explore Your Archive campaign continues until the end of this week. If you wish to learn more about our Heritage Collections our archivist is holding a public talk at 1pm on Saturday 25th November in No 26 York Street with a tour of RCSI's Historic building following the talk. To book a place for this please email