The well-travelled archive

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By | From the Collections

With summer holidays in full swing some of us may be lucky enough to be acquiring a new stamp in our passports en route to an exotic destination. Just like the stamps in our passports, or the travel stickers that adorn a battered suitcase, some of our archive collections arrive decorated with the distinctive stamps and markings of their well-travelled past.

suitcase with travel labels

Vintage suitcase with travel labels. Photo credit: Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

As archivists we are always keen to find out as much as possible about the history of a collection in order to paint a full custodial history for researchers. For certain collections, this may involve a quick chat with a donor whilst other collections may have a more complex and journeyed past that requires further investigative work.

Archive box from

Archive box with the labels acquired during its travels through various repositories. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

The boxes that make up one recently acquired collection are marked with identifiers that tell us about the collections past life, before ending up here at the Wellcome Library. The labels on one particular box (above) act as its very own travel stickers: one tells of it’s origins in an health education organisation; others record details of its trips in and out of various records storage facilities, ‘Crown Records’ for example, refers to a location in North London. This box is soon to acquire yet another label as it travel north from London to reside in DeepStore, a former Cheshire salt mine.

Of course, the real value of an archive can only be revealed once we start opening up the boxes and discovering the content inside. Continuing the travel theme, the Library offers a rich resource of unpublished writing  and journals by traveling doctors.

 Street scene in Rouen, France, 21st July, 1817 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Street scene in Rouen, France, 21st July, 1817, taken by camera lucida on the second day of Lister's visit Watercolour July - September 1817 By: Joseph Jackson ListerCorrespondence and papers of the Lister Family Journal of a tour of the Continent Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.or

Street scene in Rouen, France, 21st July, 1817 taken by camera lucida on the second day of Lister’s visit. watercolour  by Joseph Jackson Lister, in Journal of a tour of the Continent, 1817 . Wellcome Image no. L0034243.

One fine example is the travel sketchbook of microscopist Joseph Jackson Lister, father of the renowned surgeon Joseph Lister. Lister Senior records his journey through France and Switzerland in 1817, illustrating the stories of his travels with intricately detailed sketches of the towns and landscape around him.

To find more travel writing and photography, take a look at our subject guides on Locations and travel. For those of us not planning any trips away this year, we can at least explore some exotic destinations through the eyes of these travellers!

Enjoy your summer holidays!

Author: Alice Mountfort is an Archive Assistant at the Wellcome Library.

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