Hunting for a Needle in a Haystack

Day 2: Worth the Search at NY State Archives

You would think that since this is my second trip to the New York State Archives that I would have little left to look at – perhaps just a few “loose ends” to finish up. Well, I’ve barely scratched the surface of their asylum and state hospital collection (and I’m only talking about their nineteenth century materials – they have much, much more from the twentieth century). I think there are possibilities here for many more trips in the future for other projects (yay!).

I spent the day today with materials from Utica State Hospital and Willard State Hospital. I was rolling along at high speed initially, I even finished going through a whole cart of boxes this morning and was pretty impressed with myself. And then came this giant collection of mishmash. Seven boxes on a cart – four of which are banker sized boxes – filled with material ranging from the 1850s to the 1970s. The archivist printed off a finding aid to help me sort through the material but it doesn’t correspond to the material actually in the boxes. And the folders are mostly unlabelled – even the material within a given folder is a mix of centuries!

But the dig has been completely worth it (and I’m only two boxes in so far): completely random items keep popping up – from reports to rule books to photographs of staff or items that were in the museum to newspaper clippings.

My favourite items of the day: a book from the School for Attendants with all the lesson plans and exams (pictured)!! It dates to the first class in 1887. The lesson plans range from anatomy to  basic first aid to cooking (both food for consumption and food for medicinal purposes). I finally know how to make that “beef tea” I always see listed in casebook records! And apparently it isn’t just as straight-forward as “beef tea”: there’s bottled beef tea, broiled beef essence, whole beef tea, and Dr. Mitchell’s beef tea. In another folder I found a photo of the press used to make beef juice. I’m not sure why I find this so exciting (especially considering that I don’t eat meat) but for some reason it is.

Also had a chance to zip through the displays of the New York State Museum. I’ve done research with their materials before but hadn’t seen their exhibit space. The museum is free and covers all sorts of aspects of the history of New York state – from the types of animals and minerals in the Adironacks to the history of NYC to Sesame street to 9/11. I didn’t have time to do the exhibits justice in any way but they seemed really interesting.

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2 Responses to Hunting for a Needle in a Haystack

  1. lizette says:

    mmm…..broiled beef essence

  2. […] of the day was spent back with the cart of mishmash boxes from Willard that I had been working with yesterday (photo top left). There continued to be an interesting mix of materials: reports, by-laws, rule […]

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