Archival Frustration: How could there be no mention? (and who is Eleanor I. Keller?)

27 February 2014

Day 4: at the Rockefeller Center Archives

I should have known that yesterday‘s excitement was too good to be true. Today I felt like all I did was face one question after another. The New York Psychopathic Laboratory was only open from 1916-1917 (with a trial run in 1915 and a “revival” of sorts in 1926-1927) so, in theory, it should be easy to locate within the Minutes and financial records of the Bureau of Social Hygiene. Right? Wrong. I flipped through page after page, folder after folder, madly clicking away with my camera in the hopes that maybe I was just missing something that should be staring me in the face. There was nothing (except a bunch of information about a project I’d like to pursue in the future about the Bedford Reformatory). I’m in a state of disbelief.

The work has also raised some other interesting questions such as: who is Eleanor I. Keller? She’s listed as the psychologist who worked at the Laboratory, but she exists as nothing more than a cursory mention on the staff list in the archival record. Given that the purpose of the Laboratory was to perform both psychiatric and psychological testing on those arrested at New York’s Police Headquarters, I would say she must have played a fairly critical role. And yet my cursory searches for her have yet to provide much detail. One of the issues is that when you Google “Eleanor I. Keller” you get a lot of hits about the meetings/correspondence between Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller. And after a day of archiving, my energy levels permit little more than a quick Google search. I know she wrote about her work at the Laboratory – and I know her start and end dates for this work. But I don’t know much else yet – where did she get her PhD? Who did she work with? Typically I would approach the challenge as an exciting bit of detective work but after today’s frustrations in the archival records I’m feeling somewhat more negative about the venture.



Bonus post!

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.

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2-for-1 Archives Special

18 June 2010

Day 4: Two is better than one!

A couple of days ago the Head Archivist at the Weill Cornell Medical Center Archives asked me if I had checked out the archives on the 12th floor. More archives? In the same building? I was intrigued. Turns out he was referring to the Oskar Diethelm Library, a library of 25,000 volumes (and those are just what’s catalogued) on topics related to the history of psychiatry and its predecessors.

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17 June 2010

Day 3: So many cases, so little time

NY is making me an early bird: I was ringing the bell to get in to the Archives today at 6:50am!

There doesn’t seem to be a finding aid available for researchers for the Bloomingdale collection so I started the day sitting with the archivist at his computer while we searched for key terms in their database that might be of interest to me. That’s when he asked if my interest in photographs included photos of individual patients – I had to stop myself from jumping up and yelling “Hell YA!

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Photos, photos, photos

15 June 2010

Day 2: it’s all about the photos

Arrived at 7am this morning at the archives (the Archivist said he’d be there by 6:30am but I declined the offer to be there quite so early – as is, I was up at 5:45am just to shower and catch the bus – and yes, I’m as surprised as the next person about this fact).

Archivist also totally saved me: I forgot to pack the new magnifying glass my Mom picked up for me and would have missed a ton of stuff in the background of some of the photos if he hadn’t had one to lend me!

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After 13 long hours on a bus – I’ve arrived in NYC

14 June 2010

An overnight bus to NYC – arriving 7am Monday morning. Sounded like a genius idea – roll in to the city, saunter over to the archives, and get a full day without needing to pay for another nights stay in the city. However: my 10 hour overnight bus trip to NYC backfired on me and turned into a 13 hour trip – ugh! (And this was after I drove back from Montreal to Toronto earlier in the day).  Got turned around a bit on the subway too so I didn’t make it to the archives until 11:30am – not my best first impression.

I’m at the Weill Cornell Medical Center Archives this week. The Archives are located on the 25th floor of the New York Presbyterian Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The hospital organization dates to 1771 and the building dates to 1932.

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