Friday 26 March 2010

Letters from a 'remarkable vagabond' mountaineer

The papers of the late Sydney Scroggie, a well known character in Dundee, will soon be fully catalogued and available for use. The collection includes much of Sydney’s personal correspondence stretching as far back as his school days and later life up to 2004. They also cover his time in the Second World War both before and after being wounded. There is also a large number of short stories, poems and articles written for newspapers (many of which were published) on a wide variety of topics from comedy to tragedy to tales of the paranormal.

Syd Scroggie was born in Canada to Scottish parents and arrived in Scotland as a young boy upon the death of his father in the First World War. He attended John Watson’s Institution in Edinburgh and Harris Academy in Dundee and after leaving school he joined D.C.Thomson where he was sub-editor on The Hotspur. At the outbreak of the Second World War Scroggie joined the Cameronian Rifles and later the Lovat Scouts. He saw five years active service but just a couple of weeks before the end of war he stepped on a mine in Italy, losing a leg and the sight of both eyes. A keen mountaineer previously, Sydney did not let his war wounds hold him back and continued to roam the hills, completing more than 600 ascents, until shortly before his death in 2006.

This collection reflects what a remarkable individual he was and what an inspirational life he led.

For more information please contact

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Death of Sir James Black

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Sir James Whyte Black, Nobel Laureate and former Chancellor of the University of Dundee. Born and raised in Fife, James Black's association with Dundee dates back to 1943, when he came to the city as student in the Medical School, University College, Dundee. The picture below is from his matriculation record.

Graduating in 1946, he then spent a period as an Assistant Lecturer in Physiology at University College, Dundee before taking up positions at the Universities of Malaya and Glasgow. In 1958 he moved into the private sector, joining ICI Pharmaceuticals where he had a distinguished career as a physiologist and pharmacologist. Subsequently he was appointed as Head of Biological Research and Deputy Research Director with Smith, Kline and French, before returning to the University sector in 1973 as Professor of Pharmacology at University College London. In 1978 he was appointed to the prestigious role of Director of Therapeutic Research at the Wellcome Research Laboratories, a post he held for six years, before moving to King's College Hospital Medical School, University of London. During his research career Sir James was noted for his development of drugs to block physiological receptors, with perhaps his greatest achievement being the development of beta-blockers. He also revolutionised the treatment of ulcers with the development of the drug Tagament. His contribution to the advancement of medical science led to him being knighted in 1981 and in 1988 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of his ‘discoveries of important principles for drug treatment’. In 2000 he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen.

In 1980 the University of Dundee recognised the achievements of one of its most distinguished alumni by awarding James Black the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1992 when The Earl of Dalhousie retired as Chancellor Sir James was invited to succeed him. The then Principal Michael Hamlin was delighted by Sir James' acceptance of this offer, feeling that he was an ideal choice. As Hamlin noted not only was Sir James a graduate and an ex-member of staff, but his work in life sciences reflected what was (and still is) one of the University of Dundee's great research strengths. He was installed as Chancellor at a ceremony in the Rep Theatre on 29th April 1992, where the first degree he conferred was to Professor Robert Campbell Garry, the man who had been responsible for him getting his original appointment at Dundee almost five decades earlier. At the ceremony Sir James remarked that returning to Dundee was 'in a real sense, coming home.'

Predictably, Sir James proved to be an excellent chancellor until his retirement in 2006, doing much to promote the University of Dundee at local, national and international levels. He was a popular figure across the university community. At graduation ceremonies he showed a clear interest and enthusiasm in proceedings, although some graduands felt that he could be a little over exuberant in his application of the bonnet when he was capping them! His contribution to university life was recognised with the award of a second honorary degree (Doctor of Science) in 2005. Another tribute to the former Chancellor came in 2006 with the opening of the £20 million Sir James Black Centre by Nobel Laureate Sydney Bremner. The centre, which promotes interdisciplinary research in the life sciences, was visited by Sir James in October 2006 who was pleased and excited by the work he saw going on.

Sir James Black is undoubtedly one of the outstanding figures in the long history of university education in Dundee and he will be much missed. Archive Services hold a number of photographs of Sir James taken during his time as Chancellor, while more details about his extraordinary life can be found in University magazines and press materials held as part of the University records.

Dr Kenneth Baxter

Thursday 18 March 2010

Too many Cooks?

Recent articles in the newspapers have reminded us of the lengths some of our staff members have gone to in their quest to make an impact on the world of research. Debates about cholesterol, and the impact of eggs on cholesterol levels, called to mind the efforts of a Dundee pioneer in this field that are documented in the archives.

The papers of Professor Robert Percival Cook, the biochemist, refer to his investigations into cholesterol more than fifty years ago. Professor Cook had a lifelong fascination with nutrition and metabolism. His papers cover 1926 to 1973 and the articles include ‘Nutritive values of wartime foods’, ‘Riboflavin Deficiency in the Cebus Monkey and its Diagnosis' and ‘Vitamin Therapy Its Uses and Limitations'.

Cook came to Dundee from Australia in 1940 as Lecturer in Biochemistry at the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry. From an early period his ambition was to establish an independent department of Biochemistry, something he achieved in spite of much opposition in 1965.

He became an international authority on cholesterol, editing a definitive book and pursuing widely quoted research. His commitment was such that he carried out much of his research on himself. He would, for example, ask his wife to prepare omelettes made with twelve eggs, he would then eat them and measure the effect that this had on the composition of his blood. It is hoped that recent research, questioning the impact of egg consumption, has not forgotten his efforts!

Thursday 11 March 2010

Conference: New Perspectives on Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Scotland

The details of the programme for the next conference of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland have been finalised and registrations are being accepted. The conference, entitled 'New Perspectives on Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Scotland', takes place in Dundee 7-8 May and brings together historians offering new perspectives on Scotland in that period. The conference places a strong emphasis on new researchers who will present their findings alongside more established scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The programme can be found online here and details on how to register are available here.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Illustrating D'Arcy

Some members of the level three illustration class at the University's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design that produced work for the Curiosity exhibition mentioned in yesterday's post have posted examples of their work on their own blogs:

They took inspiration from the D'Arcy Thompson collections in the Zoology Museum and his theories of mathematical biology outlined in the book On Growth & Form. The exhibition is ongoing in the Bradshaw Art Space at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

D’Arcy 150

For the past 6 weeks level 3 Illustration students from the University's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design have been working on a D'Arcy Thompson project as part of the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. They've been taking inspiration from D'Arcy's collections in the Zoology Museum and his theories of mathematical biology pioneered in the book On Growth & Form. An exhibition of their work opened last Friday in the Bradshaw Art Space at Duncan of Jordanstone and has been a fantastic success.

My main concern was that they would simply produce lots of nice drawings of animals, but I needn't have worried. The students really engaged with D'Arcy's ideas and produced work in a whole range of media, including printmaking, sculpture, animation, and artist's books. One of the students even did a performance piece at the opening, plugging himself into D'Arcy's brain (which he'd helpfully brought along for the occasion) and answering questions on behalf of the great man.

The exhibition can be seen in Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design until 20 March. It finishes just after the main historical exhibition on D'Arcy's life and work (and in particular his 32 years in Dundee) opens in the Lamb Gallery of the University Tower Building. Accompanying that will be a new publication on D'Arcy and the history of the Zoology Museum, which includes images from the collections held by Museum Services, Archive Services and from the Special Collections at the University of St Andrews Library.

Finally, there's a whole programme of special events to mark D'Arcy's birthday in May including music, talks, poetry readings and even live street theatre. There's lots of information on the events taking place to make the 150th anniversary of D'Arcy Thompson's birth online at or you can become his friend on facebook.

Matthew Jarron, Museum Curator

Friday 5 March 2010

An Archivist in the Andes

In May 2010, ARMMS’ very own Jennifer Johnstone will be going to Peru to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She will be there for 10 days, trekking for 4, and all to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

When Jennifer is there it will be exactly a year since her mother had a heart attack. Thankfully her mother made a good recovery and is now back at work - but it was the fact she had the attack in spite of being a healthy and active non-smoker that caused the greatest shock. It certainly made Jennifer realise that this can happen to anyone at any time which is why the work that the British Heart Foundation does is so important and why she has decided to help raise money for them.

It is going to be a really tough challenge as she is – by her own confession - ‘not much of a hill walker (yet!)’ but she is sure it will be an amazing experience. Over the next few months she will be training hard and trying to raise over £3,000 through various ventures.

One such fund-raising endeavour took place on our ‘red-day’ on Friday, 5th March, when we all wore something red; Jennifer brought in pink cakes and muffins which were enjoyed by her colleagues in return for a donation.

Jennifer is an Assistant Archivist in Archive Services and has been here for 5 years. She has also been working towards the MLitt in Archives and Records Management programme run by the Centre for Archive and Information Studies and has just recently completed her studies by handing in her dissertation.

If you would like to make a donation to the BHF and help Jennifer get to Machu Picchu, please visit her justgiving site or feel free to drop her an email:

Thursday 4 March 2010

Thanks to all our volunteers

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those without whom it would be impossible to run our archive effeciently. Our volunteers perform many essential tasks from undertaking enquiries to listing small collections, often coming in regularly week after week and expecting nothing in return but the chance to work with our collections. This is Zoe, one of our volunteers who is looking through recent University accessions and fully listing them.

A recent report by the National Council on Archives gives a fuller picture of the work of volunteers across the UK. The Public Services Quality Group Annual Forum also looked at this and in particular the issues that a reliance on volunteers can raise, including finding suitable tasks for them and whether we should ask volunteers to undertake professional functions like cataloguing and arragement. Looking at the papers at the Forum it seems that it is the benefits of volunteering rather than the problems posed that most speakers emphasised. The NCA is leading on a National Archive Volunteering Project of the Year Award as further recognition of the important work that volunteers do.

Our experience has certainly been a positive one, so thanks very much to everyone who has helped us over the years!