The first archive related talk to take place in the new Lews Castle Museum and Archive takes a look at a topic still very much a talking point in the islands – the weather!
Entitled 'Extreme weather on the edge of the world: School logbooks and Hebridean Life', the talk details the role old island school logbooks can play in investigating the effects of extreme weather and will be delivered by Dr Simon Naylor, a historical geographer based at the University of Glasgow; Dr Neil Macdonald, a physical geographer at the University of Liverpool; and James Bowen, a historian based in the Department of Geography and Planning within the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Liverpool.
Last year the three members of the Weather Extremes project team visited Lewis in February to view school log books held in Stornoway Library.
And in June they toured the Western Isles consulting school log books at Castlebay Community Library; Lionacleit Community Library; Tarbert Community Library, and those held by Stornoway Historical Society, as well as consulting the log books for Mingulay and St Kilda schools which have been digitised with assistance from the National Records of Scotland.
“The event is a great opportunity for the community to find out about the interesting research which Simon Naylor, Neil Macdonald and James Bowen have been conducting using historical school logs books,” said Lews Museum Archivist Seonaid McDonald.
“Weather data from the 19th century is less reliable than today, so the effects of extreme weather events on schools throughout the Western Isles are an additional information source which complement existing records, and help experts to determine patterns of weather and what changes have occurred since the 19th century.
“It's another interesting angle on the many uses which archives can be put to. We're delighted to be hosting this – our first archive-related talk – at the Museum's community and learning room at Lews Castle,” Seonaid added.
“The new archive facility means we can ensure the preservation of unique archive material for generations to come.”
The investigations undertaken by the researchers forms part of a three-year project – 'Spaces of experience and horizons of expectation: the implications of extreme weather events, past, present and future' – began in December 2013 and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the 'Care for the Future' programme.
Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, it considers the relative resilience of different rural and urban and inland and coastal communities; exploring the efforts that individuals and communities, as well as authorities, charitable organisations and philanthropists took to mitigate the effects of extreme weather on the islands' inhabitants.
In studying old school log books, the trio were presented with unique insight into past weather extremes and their implications for the everyday lives of island communities on the edge of the world.
“There are over 170 log books for schools throughout the Western Isles,” said Dr James Bowen, “and they provide unique insight into the occurrence extreme weather and the everyday character of Hebridean life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“For instance, extreme weather affected the traditional industries of crofting and fishing, hampering the economic development of the region and had implications for the health and well-being of the population, often coinciding with outbreaks of disease, illness and pandemics,” he continued.
“Children routinely missed school because the weather was too bad for them to reach it, or because their clothing was insufficient for them to cope with heavy rain, wind or snow; hence periods of storminess, snow, high winds, heavy rainfall and droughts were frequently remarked upon in the log books.
“Also recorded were wider aspects of community life such as agricultural activities, for instance spring work, the summer pasturing of livestock, harvest work and the lifting of potatoes; the gathering of shellfish; the loss of fishermen, boats and ships; outbreaks of diseases like cholera, measles, scarlatina, small pox and typhus; the poor state of living conditions and the lack of adequate shoes and clothing for school children.”
Dr Bowen added: “North-west Scotland is very different to the other case study regions being explored by the project for various reasons. It has been chosen for investigation as it has been identified as being at risk of flooding and storm events.
“Having holidayed in the Western Isles on several occasions, it is fascinating to undertake archival research and learn more about these remote island communities. We are delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the new Museum and Archive and we hope that as many people as possible will attend this free event to see the new Museum and Archive and to hear about the Weather Extremes project.”
'Extreme weather on the edge of the world: School log books and Hebridean life' will take place at Lews Castle Museum & Archive on Tuesday, June 14th, 7.30-9.30pm.