From servants to soldiers, from agriculture to administration: occupations in St George’s Hospital Post Mortem casebooks, 1841-1918

Opening Up the Body’ is a project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946. Our Archive team have been cataloguing and digitising records dating from 1841-1917 – that’s about 27,132 cases across 76 volumes. The comprehensive reports contained within these volumes reveal some fascinating stories, which we’ll be sharing with you via the Library blog. Today’s post comes from Dr Juulia AhvensalmiProject Archivist.

Post mortems? Surely they’re all about death and misery? In this blog post I hope to show that is not the (only!) truth. I want to examine what else historical post mortems can tell us, and illustrate how they contain a wealth of information about not just the deaths, but also the lives of the patients. The post mortem volumes held in the archives of St George’s, University of London provide a fascinating glimpse to the social structures of 19th and early 20th century central London. So let’s see what the collection can tell us about the patients of St George’s Hospital in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What did they do for living? How did big changes in the society such as the industrial revolution and the First World War show in the lives of Londoners at this time? I’ll use visualisations to give an overall picture, and zoom in to look at the people behind the statistics, so sit back – get your cup of tea ready – let’s go to Hyde Park Corner.

Engraving of St George's Hospital and Constitution Arch
St George’s Hospital and the Constitution Arch, Hyde Park Corner. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Most of the post mortem cases record the occupation of the patient, and this is one of the details we have been keeping a track on whilst cataloguing the volumes. The image below shows an overview of occupations from the volumes finished so far, ranging from 1841 to 1918; the data has been visualised using Flourish, and you can explore the graph in more detail by zooming in, and filtering the data by year to take a closer look.

Flourish data visualisation
Source: Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London. By Juulia Ahvensalmi

The largest categories are in the building and construction trade (general labourers, painters, carpenters), and in domestic service (servants, cooks, housemaids). Other categories include food and accommodation services (people working in public houses, hotels and restaurants), food industries and sellers of food (grocers, bakers, butchers), people working in occupations relating to agriculture (largely stablemen, grooms as well as gardeners and farm labourers) and industries and manufacture (from smiths to window blind makers) and transport (drivers, railway workers and so on). The classification is a simplified version of ‘The occupational structure of Britain 1379-1911’ by the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.

It’s not always clear what category is most appropriate – unless the record explicitly states that someone works for instance as a servant at a hotel, rather than at a private house, it is impossible to know. ‘Servant’ has therefore been classified as ‘domestic service’, with the caveat that this might not exclusively be the case. The category ‘miscellaneous services and occupations’ include what it says on the tin – a selection of occupations that do not fit neatly the other categories, often because they were rare within the data, or because it is not clear which category they should belong in. The latter category includes things like apprentices (who were they apprenticed to?) and collectors (what exactly were they collecting?). Amongst them there is a wonderful array of occupations: there’s a mosaic worker from 1870, an assistant secretary of the Conservative Club from 1918, a piano forte maker from 1877, a keeper of urinal from 1858, a sword polisher from 1888 and a cats’ meat man from 1858. The latter would have sold meat for cats, probably walking around the streets with a cart (one can only imagine the cats trailing after him!). Rosa Blacker in 1858 is ‘Clergyman’s daughter’, and Louisa Lee in 1887 is just described as ‘gypsey’ (there would also be a lot to say about the use of language in the records, often startling and offensive to the modern reader).

The hospital at this period was located at Hyde Park Corner: the site was not closed until 1980. The building still stands, but instead of a hospital it now houses a luxury hotel. Knightsbridge, Kensington, Chelsea, St James’s, Mayfair, Soho – these days that part of London doesn’t suggest the working class population that the occupational data highlights here. But although Hyde Park Corner, then as now, had an abundance of large, wealthy households, these houses required servants, as well as people working in the local shops and factories. Some of the areas which we may now connect with wealth and opulence were not always like that; the notorious slum around Westminster, for instance, was dubbed the ‘Devil’s Acre’ by Charles Dickens. The so-called poverty map by Charles Booth, a businessman and social reformer, published 1886-1903, shows the area around Hyde Park to be largely wealthy and middle class, but towards Westminster and Chelsea there are areas in which the population is classed from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor, casual. Chronic want’ and ‘lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal’.

Charles Booth's Poverty Map
Charles Booth’s poverty map of the area around Hyde Park Corner. Source: Charles Booth, © 2016 London School of Economics and Political Science. Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Accidents and diseases are frequently a direct consequence of people’s occupations, and the post mortems enable the tracking of occupational diseases. Painters often suffered from colic, or lead poisoning, and paper stainers also frequently dealt with toxic substances: John Hyland, 48, is noted as having handled during his working life ‘much lead, arsenic, copper & mercury’ – a paper stainer would have worked with wallpaper, which, due to its vivid colours, was notoriously deadly in the Victorian era. Falling off scaffolding or ladders is a frequent cause of death for builders, and in 1888 we find the case of Aaron Gatheridge, 53, who, as a carpet layer, had ‘swallowed many nails and tacks’ (he died of cancer of the pylorus).

Preconceptions and prejudices about certain occupations as well as classes can also be seen in the post mortems. Those working in the hospitality industry in particular were often assumed to be heavy drinkers, and the doctor treating David Ferguson, 45, in 1888 notes that ‘He was a butler but claimed to be considered temperate’, whilst George Carter’s, 45, medical record in 1860 states that ‘This man was an omnibus driver of drunken habits, like most of his class’. Some positions also came with certain benefits, as we learn from the case of George Courtenay, 38, in 1860: ‘He was a very sober man, though he partook freely of the beer which was allowed in unlimited quantity to the servants’ (sobriety is also a relative concept).

Post Mortem record of Mary Fitzgerald 2 Mar 1905 PM/1905/57
Post Mortem record of Mary Fitzgerald, 2 Mar 1905 PM/1905/57. Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

Of Mary Fitzgerald, aged 35 in 1905 it is noted that ‘Her life had always been sedentary – that of a needlewoman’. Another aspect of 19th century life the post mortems reveal is social and geographical mobility. Sarah Black was only 15 years old when she died of tuberculosis. She is described as being a kitchen maid, and her medical case notes tell us that she had come to London from Argyleshire two years previously, presumably to find work in the city. The doctor notes that ‘She was a dark-haired Highland girl with a fair skin’.

Not everyone was, however employed: unemployment was also a problem, and with no social security available apart from poor houses and charity hospitals, unemployment often meant destitution. The case notes of Samuel Brooks, 24, tell us that at the time of his admission to the hospital suffering from tuberculosis, ‘he had been out of work a long time, & starving, that he had recently found employment, and it was supposed he had been unequal to his task. He had been ailing for a fortnight, and had been entirely laid up for a week’. William Chant committed suicide in 1887, aged 57, after a period of unemployment; his notes tell us that ‘in consequence [he] had got very depressed’.

The class divide

The class divisions were stark: if you were wealthy enough, you would pay for a doctor to visit you at home, or attend their private practices. Only those who could not afford it went to the hospitals, which were often filthy and unhygienic.

Post Mortem record of Agneta Le Strange, 3 Oct 1918, PM/1918/207
Post Mortem record of Agneta Le Strange, 3 Oct 1918, PM/1918/207. Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

There are occasional exceptions to this rule in the post mortem records: among the occupations of the hospital patients we find some gentlemen, a couple of ladies, an admiral and a naval commander, for instance. But looking further into these cases, they all turn out to be accidents or a sudden disease. The evocatively named Agneta le Strange was brought to the hospital unconscious by the police in 1918 after suffering a sudden brain haemorrhage; not a heroine in a gothic novel or a wizard as her name might suggest, Agneta was presumably visiting the family’s London townhouse in Eaton Square (the family also had a mansion in Norfolk). In the majority cases, the bodies, though recorded in the post mortem volumes, were not autopsied, as that was another marker of social status: the choice to not have a post mortem. H.J. Blagrove, a ‘gentleman’, was ‘flung from his horse near the hospital’ in 1854, but his relatives asked that his body would not be examined, apart from his skull, which had been injured in the accident.

Occupations in SGUL post mortem examination books, 1858. Source: Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London. By Juulia Ahvensalmi

The earliest of the post mortems from the 1840s only record patients’ occupations sporadically, often when it has some bearing to their disease. As we proceed further in time, the registrars start recording the occupations more methodically. Decades before cars filled the streets of London, horses were an important feature in everyday life, as the presence of grooms and stablemen shows; cab drivers, carmen and coachmen were employed in driving the horse-driven carts or cars around the capital. A gardener might have worked somewhere like the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Chiswick Garden or Hyde Park, for instance, or in any number of plant nurseries providing plants to aspiring gardeners in the capital – there are even occasional farm labourers among the patients. Many people are employed in the building and construction: London was rapidly growing and these skills were in demand. There are fruiterers, bakers, butchers, distillers; people work in hotels, restaurants,  coffee houses, pubs (‘potman’ collected and washed dirty pots and glasses in a public house); they cook and serve; sew dresses, make cabinets and wigs and saddles; the charwomen and street sweepers clean and take care of public places as well as private houses.

The gender divide

Women’s occupations in SGUL post mortem examination books, 1841-1918. Source: Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London. By Juulia Ahvensalmi

Women did not have many occupations open to them on their own right. When in employment, they were, by and large, working with textiles as dressmakers, needlewomen and milliners, and in domestic service, as servants, housemaids, cooks, laundresses and cleaners. Towards the late 19th century industrialisation means some other occupations become available for women, such as working in factories, and in particular during the First World War we start seeing clerks, secretaries and typists among the women. Lilly Grundy, 19, is recorded as having been a ‘machinist’, probably in a shoe factory. For unmarried women with children, the options were even fewer, and for most of the 19th century limited to dressmaking and cleaning. The post mortem records usually note the occupation of the father for the children; recording the occupation of the mother instead signals to the reader that the mother was unmarried. The mother of Edwin Cannon, aged 4 in 1887, was a charwoman (or cleaner), and the mother of Pat Gurney, aged 5 in 1917, was a flower seller, indicated in the post mortem records by ‘M’ for ‘mother’.

Index to the post mortem volume 1887, showing the entry for Edwin Cannon, PM/1887/120, and index to the post mortem volume 1917, showing the entry for Pat Gurney, PM/1917/266. Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

This was also the time when St George’s Medical School allowed its first female students, several of whom went on to work at the hospitals, including on the post mortems. Mostly, however, women’s status was defined by that of their husband or father; they are designated as ‘wife of labourer’, ‘wife of coachman’, or simply ‘married’, ‘wife’ or ‘widow’. And looking more closely into the cases it is soon obvious why this would be. Lack of (knowledge of) contraception as well as the social unacceptability of it meant that many women spent much of their lives pregnant, breastfeeding and caring for their children – they simply did not have the chance to even consider working outside the home. Emma Rickets, 50, is recorded as having had 22 children in 1888 – and having been one of 22 herself. That is of course an extreme example – but 10 children is not uncommon, and surely much fewer would have been stressful enough. Maria Cooper was 27 when she died in 1860; she is noted to have been married at 15 and borne nine children before her untimely death.

War and bureaucracy

Soldiers and sailors make occasional appearances in the records, often in the form of men who had perhaps gone ‘to sea’, often in East India Company’s employ, and latterly returned to Britain from the colonies. James Scott, for instance, died aged 44 in 1881. His occupation is listed as a confectioner, but his medical case notes tell us that he had gone to sea aged 17 in East India Company’s service, and had suffered from dysentery whilst in India. Life at sea is laid bare in the description of Scott as ‘a very heavy drinker of spirits, especially 1858-1870 when he had much morning vomiting & depression’. Far fewer are references to people who made the journey in the other direction: John Lusila was only 23 when he died in 1854 of tuberculosis. His medical record notes that ‘This poor black, who was a native of Angola, and had been in the West Indies, had been 10 years in England, & was a waiter in an eating house’.

Post mortem record of John Lusila, 17 Dec 1854, PM/1854/384. Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London

From the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century to the First World War, the post mortems record soldiers, their wives and their children. In the visualisation of the occupations in 1918, the armed forces has become the largest category: there are soldiers, privates, riflemen, sergeants, a captain, a naval commander and an admiral – and in particular their wives and children, who of course were the ones remaining in London.

Occupations in SGUL post mortem examination books, 1917. Source: Post Mortem Casebooks, Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London. By Juulia Ahvensalmi

The visualisation also shows a huge increase in the types of occupations, compared to the earlier chart of 1858. In addition to the categories seen earlier – domestic service, occupations relating to the food industries and hospitality, building and construction – the industrial revolution, as well as the war, is apparent in all the jobs in factories: machinists, munition workers, aeroplane makers, electric fitters. There are also more white-collar type jobs in administration (clerks, secretaries, typists); there are engineers, a barrister, an architect, a bank manager and so on. The biggest change, however, is in the ‘other’ category, which earlier was filled with married women; in 1918, this category only includes two widows and one housewife.

Hélène Crosmond-Turner in Various musical celebrities by and after Elliott & Fry bromide print, 1890s. NPG Ax139913 © National Portrait Gallery, London

One of the interesting categories are those working in arts and entertainment. There are not many, but they include Percy Vaughan, a comedian, who died of tuberculosis aged 29 in 1887. His medical case records laconically that ‘he had been a pantomimic actor & had lived hard and fast’. Another tragic story is that of an opera singer, Hélène Crosmond-Turner. Born Rosa Levison or Leverson, she shot herself in a cab on Piccadilly in 1888 after failing to renew her contract as a lead in Aïda. She had for some time been worried about her financial situation and her career, and had tried some days previously to overdose on painkillers. The papers made much of this dramatic suicide, including describing her dress in detail – red and brown stripes, with a black and brown checked ulster, trimmed with imitation beaver (‘not one of her best outfits, as her landlady Mrs Godbold later observed’). Part of the attention lavished at poor Hélène following her death was due to her famous mother, Madame Rachel, whose tagline was ‘beautiful forever’. From selling rabbit skins and used clothes in London’s East End, Rachel proceeded to be the owner of a very profitable beauty salon in Mayfair. Her famous cosmetics, however, contained a multitude of toxic chemicals, including prussic acid, lead and arsenic. This, alongside with allegations of blackmailing her clients, led her to being prosecuted for fraud. She died in Woking jail in 1880, aged 60, eight years before her daughter.

What other stories would you like to hear from the post mortem project? We’re lucky in that we have all the volumes digitised, so we’re able to continue cataloguing the cases, and are eager to hear your views!

Careers Week: round up

It was great to see so many at the Careers Week stand outside the library last Wednesday.  We had a range of very interesting queries. Here’s a flavour: 

  • Where do I find vacancies and careers information? 
  • What are my options now I have decided to leave MBBS? 
  • How do I get onto the UK Foundation Programme? 
  • What can I do to get onto a surgery specialty? 

We checked some CVs and really enjoyed answering all your questions. Don’t worry if you missed us, you can still book to see us for any careers advice or application/CV help on Canvas or email one of St George’s Career Consultants (Karen Deadfield – kdeadfie@sgul.ac.uk).

Students with laptops sitting in Curve Lecture Theatre.

In addition to the Careers pages you can find on Canvas (some through your course pages), here are our Top 5 websites to explore: 

  1. Prospects.ac.uk – comprehensive information on all things careers from helping weigh up career options to career salaries, postgrad study to going for interviews.  
  1. Target Jobs – great on application advice and video interviews but another great general website 
  1. Oxford University’s Anatomy of a Personal Statement – for an annotated example of an application for Medicine 
  1. Health Careers – explore the range of careers and progression in healthcare. 
  1. LinkedIn – start setting up a profile and seeing how to develop areas of interest, check career routes of others and grow a professional network. Connect with St George’s students and staff as a starting point.   

Don’t forget: Explore, Plan, Apply! 


The Library has resources available for you to browse and borrow, covering topics such as getting into particular medical specialities, writing great medical CVs and developing your career as a healthcare professional. For example, you can search for “medical career” in Hunter – our library catalogue. We have also collected books around Careers and Professional Development and Women in Leadership on our Wakelet.

St George’s first Careers Week has landed

Banner for St George's careers service

Do you want to know how to succeed and develop in your chosen career path?

Do you want more ideas on where your degree can take you? The obvious and the not so obvious?

Are you looking for career inspiration beyond your specialism?

St George's, University of London medical students

What is happening this week?

Monday 2 March to Wednesday 4 March

Look out for the Careers-themed posts on social media and the odd blog post or two giving hints, tips and links on managing your career – think Explore, Plan, Apply!

Check Canvas to see if your course of study has its own career pages – there is a wealth of information to give you the full picture and a huge advantage in your career planning.

Wednesday 4 March

Meet the Careers Consultants – Social Learning Space, Hunter Wing, 1st floor 11am-2.30pm

Thursday 5 March

Humans in Healthcare – Curve Lecture Theatre, 4pm to 6pm. Please book here.

  • St George’s welcomes people from a range of healthcare specialties to share their lived experiences about staying well in the workplace, coping with their careers and highlighting the issues relating to mental health and the importance of seeking help.  
  • The focus is on workplace well being.
  • Keynote speaker is renowned speaker, Dr Ahmed Hankir, presenting the keynote on The Wounded Healer, bringing his personal story of mental health challenges in the medical profession.
  • It will be a great opportunity to network as well as manage your workplace well being.  
  • Event requires you to book here.
St George's, University of London paramedic science students

The Library is also celebrating Careers Week by having a themed book display around well being at work, mindfulness and stress and career development. Have a look at our curated collections of books around Health and Wellbeing, Careers and Professional Development and Women in Leadership. If you have got any recommendations for us to include, let us know by emailing liaison@sgul.ac.uk

A Case of Leprosy in the Archives

Opening Up the Body’ is a project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946. Our Archive team have been cataloguing and digitising records dating from 1841-1917 – that’s about 27,132 cases across 76 volumes. The comprehensive reports contained within these volumes reveal some fascinating stories, which we’ll be sharing with you via the Library blog. Today’s post comes from Natasha Shillingford, Project Archivist.

The post mortem record of Amy Bradshaw, Archives & Special Collections, St George’s, University of London, PM/1884/9

Amy Bradshaw, a seven-year-old girl, was admitted to St George’s Hospital on 24th July 1883 and she later died on 10th January 1884. She was suffering from Leprosy.

The medical case notes record that ‘Her mother was a native of Oxfordshire, her father of Barbados, where his family had lived for three generations since leaving Scotland.’ Amy was one of six children, one of whom died in infancy of dysentery, and two had Leprosy. The sister next above her in age was four and a half years older, and she developed symptoms of Leprosy in 1875. Amy was said to have first developed symptoms herself in 1879, when her mother noticed raised spots ‘like blind boils’ on her back and thighs, which after a time turned brown and were succeeded by a fresh crop.

On admission she was described as ‘a dark intelligent child of characteristically leprous aspect. Over the face and hand the flattened tubercles, in parts red, in parts brown, are abundantly scattered: the nose enlarged, flattened at the tip, red and pigmented; the lower lip the same.’ On her arms, legs and feet were depressed cicatrices and scattered dark brown pigment.

On examination the larynx and epiglottis were found to be thickened and unnaturally white and a lumpy deposit was found. ‘The timbre of the voice is somewhat nasal and the vowel sounds slightly continental.’

Amy was treated with Chaulmoogra Oil in the form of an emulsion which was seen as a success and the child was happy as a rule, although she occasionally complained of soreness and aching in the leprous tubercles. On 17th December her temperature rose rapidly ‘when an acute invasion of the new growth set in with much pain and suppuration.’ The medical case notes report that Amy’s elder sister who was suffering from the same symptoms, was allowed to leave the hospital on 23rd December to spend Christmas at home. However, she developed pneumonia shortly after and died on 6th January. Amy also gradually developed pneumonia in the hospital and ‘sank with great pain, and high fever, dying in Jan 10 1884.’ The post mortem report states ‘Face disfigured by leprosy cicatrices.’

Leprosy affects the nerves, respiratory tract, skin and eyes. It can cause loss of fingers and toes, gangrene, ulcerations, skin lesions and weakening of the skeleton. If left untreated, it can lead to a loss of sensation in the hands and feet. This lack of ability to feel pain can lead to the loss of extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. Leprosy can also damage the nerves in the face which causes problems with blinking and eventual blindness. Other symptoms, which can be seen in the case of Amy Bradshaw, include flattening of the nose due to destruction of nasal cartilage, and phonation and resonation of sound during speech.

Credit: Elephantiasis graecorum, True Leprosy. Chromolithograph.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The disease takes its name from the Greek word λέπρᾱ (léprā), from λεπῐ́ς (lepís; “scale”). Leprosy has a long and complicated history and for centuries has been associated with social stigma, which even in the modern day continues to be a barrier to self-reporting and early treatment.

The earliest possible account of a disease which is believed to be Leprosy appears in an Egyptian papyrus document written around 1500 BC. Indian texts from 600 BC also describe a disease that resembles Leprosy. The first account of the disease in Europe occurs in the records of Ancient Greece after the army of Alexander the Great came back from India, and then in Rome in 62BC which coincided with the return of troops from Asia Minor.

Leprosy had entered England by the 4th century AD and was a common feature of life by 1050, although throughout its history it has been feared and misunderstood. It was often believed to be a hereditary disease, or some believed that it was a punishment or curse from God. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) considered people with Leprosy to be heretics.

Others thought that the suffering of lepers echoed the suffering of Christ and they were enduring purgatory on earth and would go straight to heaven when they died. Therefore, they were considered closer to God than other people.

Leprosy patients were often stigmatised and shunned by the rest of society. During the middle ages people suffering from Leprosy were made to wear special clothing, ring bells to warn others of their presence, and walk on a different side of the road.

Credit: Manuscript showing leper. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A passage from Leviticus 13: 44-46 shows the biblical perception that people with leprosy were unclean and should be ostracised from society:

the man is diseased and is unclean. The priest shall pronounce him unclean because of the sore on his head.

Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

Credit: Two lepers receiving food through a wall. Etching by Gaitt after A. Decamps. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Even in more modern times, patients with Leprosy were often confined to colonies called Leprosariums because of the stigma of the disease. Some of these colonies were situated in remote lands or islands, such as the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete which was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. The novel ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop tells the story of the leper colony on Spinalonga and its inhabitants.

In 1873 Dr Gerhard Henrik Armauer from Norway identified the germ that causes Leprosy. The discovery of Mycobacterium Leprae proved that leprosy was not a hereditary disease, or a punishment by God, but an infection caused by bacteria.

Patients with Leprosy were often treated, as can be seen in the case of Amy Bradshaw, with oil from the chaulmoogra nut. The treatment was said to be painful and its success was questionable, although some patients appeared to benefit. Leprosy is now curable with multidrug therapy (MDT) which was developed in the early 1980s

The last case of indigenous leprosy in the UK was diagnosed in 1798. Leprosy can no longer be contracted in this country, but there are around 12 new cases diagnosed each year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/leprosy) figures state that in 2018 there were 208,619 new cases of leprosy diagnosed. This is approximately one every two minutes.


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LGBT History Month 2020 – more LGBT book reviews

This is the second installment of our book reviews of LGBT books that we have in our collection at St George’s.

Every February we celebrate LGBT History Month! It is about celebrating the richness of queer people’s contributions to society, to make LGBT+ people visible in all their diversity and to educate out prejudice.

At St George’s we have a growing Reading for Pleasure collection and as part of that we have been expanding our range of LGBT titles. You can browse the whole collection on our Wakelet.

Rainbow heart that is lighting up.

Orlando – Virginia Woolf

Liz (Diversity and Inclusion Adviser)

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, written in 1928, is a progressive, fun and vibrant novel that plays with gender and identity but carries an underlying important questioning of the restrictive nature of gender placed on individuals by society. This novel is very ahead of its time, like much of Woolf’s other works. It challenges the status quo, making it as important a comment on gender today, as it was when it was first published. 

Orlando is a beautifully written book with vivid and rich descriptions of societies and landscapes and tales of love and passion spanning over 300 years. Orlando is a love story, arguably based on Vita Sackville-West, Woolf’s close friend and lover. Woolf uses the novel to explore this relationship free of the boundaries of society, exploring sexuality and gender that is fluid.

Woolf creates Orlando as a playful, intense and humorous character through which she is able to explore, critique and question the role of gender in society and how this has changed over time. Woolf considered Orlando to be a “holiday” or “joke”, suggesting it is less serious and intellectual than her other works. Despite this, the novel has a serious and interrogative undertone which makes for interesting reading.

In Orlando, gender is fluid. For the protagonist, Orlando, gender changes as the novel moves through time. Half way through the novel Orlando changes from man to woman. This is not remarkable for Orlando or for Woolf, but entirely plausible. Woolf writes

‘Orlando had become a woman – there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity’

In this, Woolf argues that gender is merely costume and expression, and is interchangeable. Orlando has autonomy over their identity, and this remains separate from the sex and gender.

Woolf highlights the complex relationship between gender and identity and how this is impacted by societal expectations and norms. Orlando pushes boundaries and questions why our roles and identities are so shaped and prescribed by our sex. Orlando is able to break free of this, exploring different roles and learning the penalties and privileges of each of these. Gender is performative and fluctuating, demonstrating a wonderful freedom. As the novel progresses Woolf explores a hopeful and changed world for women.

Orlando is a hugely progressive and daring novel; it is widely viewed as the first trans novel. It is fast-paced and immensely enjoyable to read. Whilst it was published 1928 it still feels relevant and challenging today. Woolf asks important and brave questions of her reader through a charming and playful love story I’d recommend everyone to read. 

Book cover of Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
Orlando

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Anne (Liaison Support Librarian)

Sarah Waters is a contemporary novelist known for weaving together themes of gender, sexuality and identity with characters that live on the margins of their respective societies. Night Watch (2006) is no exception to this. As readers we follow four characters through London before, during and after WWII. The author expertly plays with time and chronology, slowing revealing secrets and hidden traumas. At first, I found it difficult to engage with the characters and due to the chronology of the novel it is not fast-paced. However, some scenes stood out as highlights to me. Without wanting to give too much away, all I can say is that the characters’ personal development connects in imaginative, sometimes horrifying, ways to wartime events and post-wartime malaise. The female characters struggle to readjust to the more stereotypical gender roles they are expected to fall back into after the war. The sexual freedom they experienced during the war has receded and turned some characters’ romances into flat routine in which they seemed trapped. Their sexuality and the consequences thereof are something all four protagonists struggle with, either because of social stigma or personal shame and often because of a combination of both. Waters’ language does justice to the dramatic, (in)tense scenes as well as the more mundane, everyday elements of people’s lives and I always enjoy a good description. 

While I am not painting a very rosy picture of The Night Watch, and it definitely is a dark novel at times, I enjoyed reading it. As always, I really liked Sarah Waters’ gender-bending, sexually adventurous and at times confused protagonists as they navigate their historical contexts.  

Book cover of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.
The Night Watch

We published another blog post a few weeks with more book reviews of LGBT titles. You can find it here. Any recommendations for our LGBT book collection? Email us at liaison@sgul.ac.uk.

LGBT History Month 2020 – LGBT book reviews

Every February we celebrate LGBT History Month! It is about celebrating the richness of queer people’s contributions to society, to make LGBT+ people visible in all their diversity and to educate out prejudice.

At St George’s we have a growing Reading for Pleasure collection and as part of that we have been expanding our range of LGBT titles. You can browse the whole collection on our Wakelet.

We have asked staff to share their thoughts with us!

Poster on brick wall with a rainbow and the text "Love is Love".

Maurice – EM Forster

Andy (Information Assistant)

When I first read Maurice by E M Forster, I was fourteen years old. Reading it proved to be the first time that I recognised myself in print. My interests, my desires and my hopes. Quite a feat for a novel published in 1971 and written in 1914! The novel centres on the relationship between two university students and their struggles to find a way of accepting and constructing a homosexual life in Edwardian England. As with Forster’s other novels, class and social mores are at the forefront of the novel. Even in the 90s as a gay teenager, the availability of gay representation within the mainstream was almost non-existent. Portrayals of gay life were often negative, and skewed. Reading Maurice and Forster’s superb character construction gave me a chance to see other gay men who were relatable and aspirational in their search for an accepted existence.

The novel was inspired by Forster’s visit to the gay socialist Edward Carpenter. When visiting Carpenter, Forster observed for the first time, a gay relationship between Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill being lived openly. Indeed many of Carpenter socialist politics are evident in the novel. Especially his interest in breaking down class distinctions.

Maurice is a must read for anyone who wants to see the power of the novel to effect real political and social change. It’s just so good. 

Book cover of Maurice
Maurice

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Jenni (Research Publications Assistant)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe revolves round the friendship and eventual romance between two Mexican teenage boys, Ari and Dante. It’s written in a lyrical style that took me a while to get into, but once I did I just kept loving it more and more.

Ari’s gradual journey towards learning how to deal with his own emotions is beautifully and delicately handled, as is the (unresolved, and I think this is a strength) thread about what it means to be Mexican, and how it feels to be treated as not Mexican enough. The author makes all the secondary characters feel rounded and true without breaking out of Ari’s point of view, and portrays the adults in particular as being good people trying their best (and not always getting it right) in a way that I found refreshing.

My enjoyment was unfortunately a little marred towards the end by a backstory reveal that edged uncomfortably close to some lazy transphobic and homophobic tropes, and a slightly unsatisfying resolution to the otherwise captivating romance plot (involving a trope that I personally am not fond of), but other than that this is a wonderful, mesmerising book that is very much worth reading.

Book cover of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Yes, You are Trans Enough – Mia Violet

Beth (Liaison Support Librarian)

I picked up Mia’s book because in my quest to be a better trans ally, I felt I needed a stronger grasp not only on trans issues but the lived experiences of those questioning their gender. Luckily, this memoir delivers on both fronts: it draws deeply on Mia’s burgeoning awareness of her true gender identity through to her decision to transition and she links the myriad of hurdles she faced (and continues to face) along the way to the wider issues facing the trans community. While there are regular reminders that there is no one ‘universal trans experience’, I suspect that many of the themes she discusses in her book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt bullied, excluded or marginalised.

I did feel the book could have used some more judicious editing – Mia’s writing style is honest but often offers exhaustive detail. This isn’t necessarily a criticism though: her attention to detail also provided me with several learning opportunities, particularly her struggle to access the healthcare services she needed. I was also struck by the difficulties she faces with her mental health, having become a beacon of support for other trans people online. It was a stark reminder of the emotional labour demanded of individuals who are fighting for basic rights (like appropriate healthcare) that most of us would take for granted.

I think Yes, you are trans enough is a great starting point for anyone wanting an introduction to trans issues. And even if Mia’s experiences are very different to your own, at the heart of the book is a story of personal acceptance and finding confidence in your identity which is a real pleasure to read, especially if you’ve ever felt a bit lost.

Book cover for Yes, You are Trans Enough
Yes, You are Trans Enough

We will be publishing another blogpost in a few weeks with more book reviews of LGBT titles. We would love to hear from you! Have you read any of these books or one from our LGBT collection (found on our Wakelet)? Let us know your thoughts in a couple of paragraphs and we’ll publish your review as part of our next blogpost. Email us at liaison@sgul.ac.uk.

Top 10 referencing mistakes… and how you can avoid them!

We know that referencing can be laborious, especially if you are new to academic writing or are used to using other referencing styles. However, the good news is there’s plenty of guidance available to you at St George’s. Whether you use the print or online version of Cite Them Right (the book on which our referencing style is based), use our helpsheet, access the referencing quiz via Canvas, visit the Research Enquiries Desk or get in contact with your Liaison Librarians, there’s support available whether you’re at home, on site or on placement.

Even with these resources, it’s easy to make mistakes. The Liaison team regularly meet students with referencing enquiries and over the years have identified a series of common citation and reference list mistakes we see in written assignments. So based on our experiences – and feedback from teaching staff – we’ve compiled for you here (in no particular order) a breakdown of the most common referencing mistakes and some useful advice on how to avoid them!

Read on for the full article, or use the links below to navigate to the sections that most interest you:

1) Using et al. incorrectly
2) Numbering reference lists…
3) …and using numbers as in-text citations
4) Including an author’s initials in citations
5) Forgetting to include page numbers in citations
6) Using footnotes
7) Using ibid. or op. cit.
8) Missing/incorrect dates
9) Chapters in edited books
10) Pesky punctuation

(Please note that any links to Cite Them Right online may require your SGUL username and password if you are reading this post off-site, i.e. not connected to eduroam or the SGUL network)

1) Using et al. incorrectly

A common issue we see at the Research Enquiries Desk is the incorrect use of et al. To remind you, this stands for ‘and others‘ and it can be used in both in-text citations and your reference list to indicate a work has multiple authors.

However, it should only be used if the source you are referencing has four or more authors.

If the source has one, two or three authors they must all be named.

The problems we see most often include et al. being used to replace just two or three authors; inconsistent use of et al. between corresponding citations and references and incorrect formatting and punctuation.

How can you avoid it?

Follow the guidance in Cite Them Right. The page on Setting out Citations provide comprehensive guidance on how to cite one, two, three and four or more authors, but you’ll also find examples of using et al. in entries for individual resources; including books, journals etc.

Remember: St George’s doesn’t require the naming of all authors in your reference list. You can use et al. in both your in-text citation AND the full reference at the end of your work.

Also: et al. should always be written in italics, with a full-stop at the end. Check over your work to ensure you have done this consistently throughout your writing.

2) Numbering reference lists…

The Harvard style of referencing is all about the author of a publication and the date it was published. It’s these pieces of information that dictate the order that your references appear at the end of your work: you should list them in alphabetical order, by the author’s surname:

Cottrell, S. (2019) The study skills handbook. 5th edn. London: Red Globe Press.

Diabetes UK (2018) Preventing Type 2 diabetes. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/preventing-type-2-diabetes (Accessed: 20 September 2018).

Dimond, B. (2013) Legal aspects of midwifery. 4th edn. London: Quay Books.

We regularly see students who have unnecessarily numbered their references in an otherwise exemplary alphabetical list, or have listed their references in the order they appeared in the body of their work.

How can you avoid it?

This is an easy one – just don’t number them! In all seriousness though, it is always a good idea to double check that your references are in alphabetical order. The sample reference list in CTR can give you an idea of what a complete reference list might look like. The troubleshooting page provides additional guidance on what to do when you have multiple works by the same authors, or authors with similar names and initials.

3) …and using numbers as in-text citations

Similarly, we also regularly see people mixing up different referencing styles in their work. For example, the Vancouver style uses numbers as in-text citations which correspond to a numbered reference list.

This is incorrect: Harvard is an Author-Date style of referencing which requires both of these pieces of information within your in-text citation.

How can you avoid it?

Familiarise yourself with the Basics of referencing section in Cite Them Right. The Setting out Citations page will give you a thorough run-down of what citations look like in the Harvard style and the Sample text and reference list page offers similar examples in a body of writing for illustrative purposes.

4) Including an author’s initials in citations

As we mentioned above, Harvard is an Author-Date style of referencing, so your citation should contain, funnily enough, the author’s surname(s) and the year of publication: e.g. (Williams, 2017)

However, we regularly see people also including the author’s first name(s) or initials within their citations: e.g. (Williams, R., 2018). This isn’t required in Harvard. You do, however, need to include initials within the full reference in your reference list.

How can you avoid it?

It’s as simple as following the guidance in Cite Them Right, either in an individual resource page or in the Setting out Citations section.

5) Forgetting to include page numbers in citations

We’ve often found that there is some confusion over where and when to include page numbers within in-text citations. This is what Cite Them Right has to say on the matter:

If you are quoting directly or using ideas from a specific page or pages of a work, you should include the page number(s) in your citations. Insert the abbreviation p. (or pp.) before the page number(s).

(Pears and Shields, 2019, p. 7)

How you set out your citation depends on the flow of your writing or the idea you are trying to communicate. Follow the advice of the Setting out Citations and Setting out Quotations pages for more information.

When it comes to your reference list, you only need to include page numbers for chapters in edited books and journal/magazine/newspaper articles. The Elements that you may need to include in your references page discusses the various types of bibliographic information required for effective referencing in more detail.

How can you avoid it?

You might be sensing a theme if you’ve read this far – follow the guidance in Cite Them Right! As linked above, the Setting our Citations page will be most helpful here, but we’d argue that it’s just as important to be thorough and methodical in recording the bibliographic details of the sources you are using in your work. Whether it’s in a notebook, a tool like OneNote or Evernote or a Word document on your device, keeping track of these important details will help you produce more accurate citations and references.

6) Using footnotes

In another example of mixing up referencing styles, we’ve seen plenty of examples of written assignments that use footnotes to display references or expand on a point in the text. Unfortunately, footnotes are not used in Harvard (or other Author-Date styles of referencing) so you should avoid using them in your written work.

How can you avoid it?

You should ensure that all of your citations appear in the body of your written work and that your references are listed in alphabetical order on a separate page at the end of your assignment. If you are having trouble succinctly paraphrasing or synthesizing information in your work, have a chat with the Academic Success Centre advisors who can help you develop your academic writing.

7) Using ibid. or op. cit.

In another example of mixing up referencing styles, it’s fairly common for us to see the terms ibid. (referring to an immediately preceding cited work) or op. cit. (referring to previously cited work) in place of the correct author-date style of in-text citation. These terms are broadly used to save on space (or your precious word count!) but as with footnotes, neither of these terms are used within Harvard (Cite Them Right) referencing so you should avoid using them in your written work.

How can you avoid it?

If you aren’t sure about how to set out your in-text citations, or have a question that the Setting out Citations page can’t solve, just ask your Liaison Librarians for advice. Email us at liaison@sgul.ac.uk or drop by and see us at the Research Enquiries Desk (open Mon-Fri 11am – 2pm) where we’d be happy to help. The Academic Success Centre can also advise on the flow of your writing.

8) Missing/incorrect dates

We’ve mentioned this a couple of times already, but with Harvard being an Author-Date style of referencing, you need to include a date! This is usually the year of publication, but what do you do if you can’t find one? Cite Them Right advises you to simply write no date in full in both your citation and reference: e.g. (Cancer Research UK, no date).

Websites are probably the most common references we see that are missing their vital bibliographic details. If you find that lots of your sources are missing dates, ask yourself if you might be able to find a better, more reliable source for your work. eBooks are just as good, if not better than, websites for background information and have the benefit of including all the necessary bibliographic information at the beginning of the book.

Remember: You should avoid using websites for academic work which have no obvious author, title or date.

9) Chapters in edited books

The key to successfully referencing a chapter in an edited book is to ensure you are recording both the author(s) and title of the chapter you have read as well as the editor(s) and title of the book as a whole. A common mistake we see usually involves including only one of the other.

You also need to remember that in your in-text citation you should include the author of the chapter and the date, not the editors of the book.

How can you avoid it?

Follow the guidance in Cite Them Right. There are also examples here and in our Harvard helpsheet. As ever, you can also email us at liaison@sgul.ac.uk or drop by and see us at the Research Enquiries Desk (open Mon-Fri 11am – 2pm) where we’d be happy to make sure you’re getting it right.

10) Pesky Punctuation

Arguably the trickiest – and most tiresome – thing about any kind of referencing is ensuring your references are formatted correctly, with all the necessary punctuation in the right places. If you’ve got an errant full-stop, or a missing comma, you are likely to be marked down.

How do I make sure my formatting is correct?

Attention to detail is key: following the exact layout of the examples provided in Cite Them Right – whatever the source – will help you achieve referencing perfection.

Giving yourself time is also important! Leaving referencing to the very last minute often means forsaking accuracy in an effort to turn your assignments in by the deadline. Marks for correct referencing are easy to earn and easy to lose, so give yourself the best chance and try to reference as you go and keep track of the bibliographic information of your sources too.

A quick word on referencing generators

Another barrier to successful referencing is the use of online, automatic reference generators. We don’t recommend that you use them, although we realise they can be tempting. It’s worth bearing in mind that the references they produce are only as good as the data you feed in – so if anything is missing, you’ll get incomplete, inaccurate results. Even with ‘official’ referencing management software like RefWorks, we always caution that you should check your work before you submit it.

This is something we see a lot at the Research Enquiries Desk (RED) and while it can feel like these generators save you time, unpicking the errors and formatting of these references usually requires more effort than it would have taken to write the reference using the support in Cite Them Right.

If you’re in doubt, come and chat with us at the RED – as ever, we’re always happy to help.


We know that was a bit of a long read, but we hope it was worthwhile. If you are an SGUL student, please feel free to share this with your peers and help them avoid these common pitfalls!


References

Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2019) Cite them right: the essential referencing guide. 11th edn. London: Red Globe Press.