28 February 2014
Day 5 – Last Day at the Rockefeller Archive Center
It’s been a great week. Five full days spent digging through the collections at the Rockefeller Archive Center in search of the short-lived New York Police Department Psychopathic Laboratory. It had its ups and downs, but then again, I suppose all archive trips have a few of those. And it was both exhausting and energizing.
For the non-initiated: archiving is hard work. I realize it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you’ll change your mind after a week spent in the reading room. Sifting through page after page of documents and diligently taking notes for eight or so hours is not as easy as it seems. It’s draining both physically and mentally. Moreover, the day does not merely run from opening to closing. The week also consists of late nights spent checking notes, re-reading sources, and trying to follow up with leads, questions, and general breadcrumbs. Dinner conversation inevitably turns to a focus on the day’s discoveries (or frustrations). The brain is constantly turned “on” – so the week is a long one.
Despite the work that goes into it, I find archiving ridiculously energizing for my “historian spirit.” The detective-like process of seeking out the little clues and slowly figuring out how the puzzle fits together is amazingly fun. I may feel like I’m in desperate need of a nap, but I’ve also already written most of a paper in my head (and parts on paper). Now to just keep that motor running…
26 February 2014
Day 3: at the Rockefeller Archive Center
Last night over dinner with Jeremy Burman, I was complaining about a number of questions that my work this week in the Bureau of Social Hygiene collection at the Rockefeller Archive Center was raising. I explained that I felt like I was on the edge of understanding several elements connected to the Psychopathic Laboratory but when I held them up to the light, could see nothing but holes. I think “the archives” may have been listening in on my conversation: Folder after folder today answered each of my questions in turn (and even confirmed two “gut” hunches). The answers were so direct to my questions that I actually felt a momentary chill on my spine.
Silliness aside, it was a wonderful day.
The day also made it clear how nice it is to travel with someone. On the one hand it has been helpful to discuss with a colleague what I’ve been reading and how the pieces of the puzzle are slowly starting to fit together. But on the other hand, it’s really refreshing to have someone to share the joys of discovery as they arise during the day. It can be a bit deflating to come across a particularly juicy detail or exciting clue only to look around the room and realize that everyone else is busy with their own projects and not interested in your news. Having a colleague the next desk over (who is also patient and willing to come see what you’re madly gesturing at) has been a real treat this week.
21 April 2011
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! Read the rest of this entry »
20 April 2011
Day 2: Feeling rather scholarly
Walking through the giant wooden doors of Sterling Memorial Library this morning was an awe-inspiring experience. There was just something surreal about pulling the big iron door handles and stepping under the intricately carved stone entrance-way beneath William Osler‘s words “The Library is the Heart of the University” – it’s just not experience I have on a regular basis.
I wasn’t prepared for the grandeur of the interior of Yale University‘s social science and humanities library – based on the arched ceilings, stained glass, and extraordinary Gothic details I was certain the building was a re-purposed cathedral. It turns out that it was built in 1930 on the design of James Gamble Rogers, a Yale alumni. The second largest university library in North America, it holds over 12.5 million volumes – and is home to the Manuscripts and Archives collection. Read the rest of this entry »
11 March 2011
Day Trip: If we ever decide to clone Dorothea Dix, I know where we can find her hair
I’m in Boston for the Eastern Psychological Association conference for the next few days so I took the opportunity to spend a few hours back at Houghton Library (pictured right) to go through parts of the Dorothea Lynde Dix papers (the last time I was here was in February of 2010 for the William James papers but that was before I began Field Notes).
Things have changed since I was last here: they’ve gone digital. I had to register online before arriving today plus get my photo taken for a fancy ID card that expires tomorrow (pictured left). I also had to request all my boxes online via their website – even when I was sitting in the reading room. It all seemed very fancy.
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8 December 2010
Last Day: Now I really have to start writing.
I had a great start to my last day at the NY State Archives. Began the morning with three large boxes filled with framed photographs of the School of Nursing records from Utica State Hospital which ranged between 1888 to 1914. The photos included both graduating classes and staff photographs. It was really cool to see how the nursing and attendant uniforms changed even in a seemingly short period of time! I was also completely entertained by a photo with the caption: “Graduating Class 1901 Acting Up”. The students were feeding each other with spoons and combing one another’s hair and taking their pulses – it was absolutely hilarious (and reminded me very much of my favourite Münsterberg photo).
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7 December 2010
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!
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