Bringing History Back To Life

Computers have changed our lives, there’s no doubt about it. As soon as everyone realised how much information they could store, the race was on to convert important historical information to digital files. They were the future, after all – surely they were the best place to store every valuable document?

However, computers have developed so fast that they’ve actually proved less useful for long-term storage than originally thought. It’s an irony not lost on Conservator Emma Fraser, who has her thesis from her Masters degree stored on a disc that is no longer compatible with any computers! For someone whose job it is to preserve paper documents, the demand for her skills has never lessened.

Paper, however, is a lot more future-proof, especially when Emma’s skills are brought to bear repairing it. It never stops being “compatible”, when the only technology required for understanding it is our own eyes.

Having done a lot of work for DCThomson, including rebinding the first bound volume of The Scots Magazines, Emma was a natural choice for us when it came to repairing the first issue of the “Friend”.

Freeze-drying History

There’ll be a full interview with Emma in our Jan 12 anniversary issue about her time working on the “Friend”, but she shared one fascinating job she’s been involved with that I just have to share. After the fires at the Glasgow School of Art – the second of which occurred in June last year – she’s been involved in restoring some of what was damaged.

When the fire happened, all valuable work was instantly freeze-dried to preserve it before having the process reversed when it was ready to be worked on by Emma. There are actual people dedicated to this sort of emergency on-site preservation – like the Ghostbusters of historic preservation, always on call to bag, tag and save your historic treasures.

Most of her other projects were too commercially sensitive to be shared – but I found this little glimpse into the technology and effort that goes into safeguarding our heritage documents intriguing.

Emma’s one of only two people doing her kind of work in Scotland, so she’s much in demand. There were a few tools of the trade spread around her unassuming top floor workspace in Dundee, but her greatest tools are patience and attention to detail.

Read all about it in what promises to be an incredible anniversary issue on sale January 9!

Alex Corlett

Alex is the "Friend's" Features Editor, working with the talented Features Team to bring you everything from cryptic crosswords to financial advice, knitting patterns to international travel and inspirational real life stories. Always on the hunt for a new feature idea, Alex also enjoys cycling and loves a good tea room.