Sometimes an archivist is lucky enough to work with a collection relating to a topic they know well but more often than not (and perhaps this is even luckier) archivists find themselves cataloguing material about which, in the beginning at least, they know as much as a certain Jon Snow. I imagine it’s similar for book editors who get to read about subjects they’ve previously never heard of. However, to be able to make informed appraisal decisions and then arrange and present the material in a meaningful context, ideally preserving provenance and original order, it is necessary to spend some time researching the collection’s creator, be it organisation or individual.
There can, at times like these, be no substitute for having an expert on hand; someone who has worked in the field or even created the records themselves. Experts can provide not only knowledge, but details about records and processes which cannot always be picked up from secondary sources.
I am delighted to have such an expert available to advise and help me make sense of the Lothian and Borders police archive. Dr John McGowan is not only an ex-Edinburgh policeman but has done his own extensive research into the history of policing which has resulted in two in-depth books on the subject:
A New Civic Order: the Contribution of the City of Edinburgh Police, 1805-1812; with Reflections on Social and Public Order, 2013
Policing the Metropolis of Scotland, 2010
One thing that Dr McGowan has been at pains to impart is that the police have always been involved in so much more than simply fighting crime; a fact that the records themselves bear witness to. He has frequently said that there will be a police record for every letter of the alphabet – well there’s a challenge that I couldn’t let pass!
So here’s Part 1, letters A-H: