Historic Environment Scotland visit Oct. 2018

pic1On a blustery, October Monday I had the opportunity to attend another ELISA-organised event, this time situated in the building of Historic Environment Scotland, discreetly tucked away in the middle of Bernard Terrace. I had first been introduced to HES at the LocScot event in March this year, which took place at the National Library of Scotland. We saw different representatives of historical information services hoping to create a search-friendly resource after pooling together their data so it would conveniently reach out to (all types of) end users. It was then that HES had piqued my interest so I was excited to know more about their historical archive holdings.

The building hosting HES is a pleasant mix of old and new, not exceptionally large but very practical. Our group, of about 12, was taken up to a grand and bright office room with large windows, conferring an informal air to the atmosphere. I felt relieved by the fact that the group was fairly small and we were able to casually introduce ourselves to people we didn’t know. Neil Fraser, our HES host, introduced us to the HES brand, its sub-brands and to their endeavours which he described as being made up of ‘lots of different strands’. We discovered the online resources and learnt about the diverse end-users who could go on to use any piece of information for a myriad of purposes. It was amazing to learn about all these quality resources and to know that historical data served so many different purposes. It all appeared to be extremely well managed and what stood out was how much it was cared about!


Shortly after a brief look at some fascinating photography (including one of a man from St Kilda’s foot!) we were taken down to a large Search room. Having worked amongst archives that were not publicly accessible as such, I could not imagine what such an archive search room would look like. The bright room and tall shelving units with a uniformly green filing system appeared to be the epitome of organisation. When we entered the ‘rare book room’ it was almost as though we had set foot in a secret chamber of beautiful musty leather-bound books. Here, Jo gave us a very detailed description of the type of items that HES may acquire and a background history of specifically chosen items on display. It was remarkable to hear about the meticulous tracking of stories pertaining to grand houses or pieces of land over time and with various forms of time-lapse techniques.pic3

It was clear to see that the HES workforce was extremely dedicated and knowledgeable.

The antiquarian books that were arranged around the room demanded out attention and we learnt that the books were based on a wide range of historical subjects ranging from the Scottish Highlands to rocks!


A visit down to the chilly store room followed and we got to experience another form of archive storage, a raw and functional system; one that I was much more accustomed to.

Our final stop was the archivist Emma’s studio, which I want to describe as a sort of magical room! I say this because it was a rare chance to see what exactly goes on inside an archive ‘laboratory’; all the science behind it. It took me back to my own lab days. Not everyone would expect to find a large sink or fuming hood in a historical archive building but it all made sense when Emma talked about paper restoration techniques and the chemicals used to help in conservation and preservation practices. This was a phenomenal demonstration.

The event ended with a round-up of the resources under the HES umbrella; learning about the publications produced and the trials they faced in trying to reach out to wider audiences. I believe that the open-days/tours, such as this one organised by ELISA, are a great way of reaching out to audiences from different sectors as well the general public so everyone can appreciate the work that goes into caring for and about all the beautiful historical treasures of Scotland that do, or once did, exist!

Sabeena Chaudrey





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