The papers of Edinburgh-based psychoanalyst, William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn (more usually known simply as Ronald) are held here, in the National Library of Scotland.
I’m Karla, an archivist, and since January 2015 I have been lucky enough to work with Ronald Fairbairn’s papers. So far, I have examined and rearranged the collection and I will soon be working alongside our conservation department who will be ensuring its long-term physical survival. However, the main aim of my six-month, Wellcome Trust funded post is to promote access to, and facilitate use of, this collection, through detailed, online cataloguing. In order to achieve this I have been working with fellow professionals from the University of Edinburgh Library, which is home to Fairbairn’s own library. Our intention is to re-establish the relationships that exist between his papers and his books and to create a website through which both collections can be accessed.
The first three months of this project have been a revelation to me. Ronald Fairbairn’s papers roughly span the period of 1891-1964, a period that I happen to know quite a bit about through other archives I have worked with. However, the documents in this collection have provided me with a new window to this world: one that reveals some of its darker psychological spaces as well as those that are reassuringly familiar.
Fairbairn’s papers have a research interest for a wide variety of mental health professionals and researchers, after all, some of his most important published papers continue to influence psychoanalytical thought today. Much of the collection provides an insight into Fairbairn’s working methodologies and the constantly evolving nature of his research interests.
However, the collection is comprised of a variety of materials – including newspaper cuttings, photographs (such as the one of Ronald Fairbairn, c 1895, below) personal papers and drawings – as well as, occasionally, totally unexpected material.
During the remainder of this project I intend to share with you some of the stories you might expect to see but also, many that you won’t! Plus, I also hope you will be able to help me by solving some of the ‘archival mysteries’ I have come across in the past three months.