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.
3 July 2010
An extra stop on my way home
Megabus made it up to me today for all the delays I’ve experienced over the past few weeks: we not only made it to NYC on schedule but also made it in time for me to catch the last tour offered at the NY Public Library!
This was my first time getting to go INSIDE the Library – it was absolutely incredible! Gorgeous architecture, incredible history, and a mandate of free and public access to everyone.
Read the rest of this entry »
3 July 2010
Last day: More artifacts & annual reports
It was a great Friday: spent the entire morning digging through boxes in the NY State Museum‘s storage room for artifacts from the Utica and Willard State Hospitals. Got to see some really interesting material! Among the coolest was Amariah Brigham‘s phrenological hat (for a film about how it works see this link – watch from 43 seconds in).
Finished off with the Utica annual reports in the afternoon + made it part way through the volumes of The Opal. Definitely am going to need to come back – I barely dented the materials held by both the Archives and the Museum!!
Heading back to NYC tomorrow AM and then it’s back on the overnight bus to Toronto. Next trip: Tim and I are driving across Canada to check out asylum and mental hospital museum collections! We leave next weekend.