Brraiins! and an impromptu meeting

Day 3 PM: Cushing Center and Medical History Library

As soon as I knew we were headed towards Yale, I made a request to tour the Cushing Center. I knew about Harvey Cushing and his brain collection but after watching a YouTube video about the new Center, I really wanted to visit.

It was well worth the trip – our tour guide was Yale’s photographer, Terry Dagradi, who has taken some incredible shots of the various elements of the collection. With 400 brains in their original jars with Cushing’s labels, the collection is just plain fascinating. The space was also interesting in terms of its set-up and interactive aspects – under each case were drawers full of materials from the collection that you could pull out to explore. There was also a photo of Cushing with Ivan Pavlov beside the famous piece of steak that Pavlov “signed” with an electrosurgical knife in 1929!

But there was still a cherry to put on the top of this ice cream sundae of an afternoon – a completely impromptu meeting at the Medical History Library (home to one of the most incredible history of medicine collections in the world). I didn’t even need to leave the building, both the Cushing Center and the Medical History Library are located in the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library building.

Based entirely on good timing I got to meet some of the staff members of the Medical History Library who, after hearing about my research interests, arranged for me to view three photograph albums they’ve acquired which feature daily-life in asylums in the Netherlands, France, and Argentina! They were absolutely incredible to see and shared a lot of characteristics with the photographs I’ve been seeing from North American institutions of the same time period. It also sounds like the Library has quite a bit of additional material I would be interested in which means: return trip in the future!

6 Responses to Brraiins! and an impromptu meeting

  1. Sarah says:

    I have wanted to see the Cushing Center ever since I read an article on it in the NY Times. You picture is different from what I exppected in a good way. Also I am glad to have read that you made it out to Utica.

    • Hi Sarah – I’m curious: what were you expecting? I had seen pictures of the Center on their website before going so I didn’t get to form an idea in my head about what it might look like. I’m wondering what you might have envisioned?

      • Sarah says:

        I have not thought about looking at their website until I read your post. All I thought about was wanting to go to Yale to see the brains. The picture in the Times was not very broad and was proably taken when they were still in the basement. So I pictured a place not very modern, just a room with built in shelves with jars from floor to ceiling. Also I did not realize that he also donated books.

      • Ah – interesting! Yes, the design of the new space is really modern and quite different from where the collection was originally being stored. I’ll have to take a look at the Times article too though.

        It turns out that Dr. Cushing was an ardent collector of many things – I originally thought it was only the brains and tumors as well. In addition to the books he acquired that are now a part of the Historical Library’s collection, there is also an extensive photo collection that goes with the individual’s whose brains are in the jars – we were told that they are now working with these items to make them available to the public as well.

  2. Jason says:

    I had no idea there is a museum full of brains. good to know, and thanks for sharing. The story about Pavlov and his steak is also very interesting.

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