Robust Information Retrieval
I have experienced some instances of being able to reconstruct a narrative easily if the institutional archives are well organised. The most recent example that comes to mind has to do with the archives of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
When I was searching for information about Dr LM Sanghvi, I wrote to the School on 26 December 2012 querying them about an Indian student who was the recipient of the Duncan Medal in 1939. Obviously, the School was closed for the Christmas-New Year break that week. On the 3rd of January, as soon as the School reopened after the break, I received an email from the School’s alumni association in-charge, telling me that the query had been forwarded to the archives department and that I would be hearing from them shortly. By the 11th of January, the then archivist Matthew Chipping sent me an email with all the details about the student, including his residential address in London when he was with the School, his faculty, his detailed courses and, best of all, a group photograph of his class!
That facilitated my task of developing the entire section of Dr Sanghvi’s student days in London. This was in such a sharp contrast to my experience of getting any information about him from the Indian schools and colleges where Dr Sanghvi had studied.
The email reply received from the archives of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is reproduced below to give an indication of how robust their archival search systems are that these details could be retrieved with such speed and the prompt response of their archives department to a query from an unknown researcher.