With and Without the White Nursing Cap

Trained nurse

“Be a Trained Nurse” Recruitment Poster from World War I with nurse knocking on a door labeled “opportunity” (LOC print)

My latest article on The Ultimate History Project takes a look at the history of field nursing, particularly nurses and health aids who worked for the Office of Indian Affairs, the predecessor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

As part of the nurse’s or nursing student’s uniform, the white cap often is synonymous with the history of nursing. However, I didn’t see many white nursing caps when I was working with the papers of the Field Nursing Program in Oklahoma, probably because public health nurses who worked “in the field” often wore their regular clothes for travel. This is just one of many details that requires a larger context beyond the confines of a single archival collection.

As a researcher, I often discover the container list or finding aid is not enough to tell me about the historical context of what I’m looking at. By context, I mean background information about the people, places, and events. This lack of information is not surprising. No one who processes a collection can include references to every detail mentioned in the documents, photos, etc. Books, scholarly articles, and digital resources can help both to broaden the story and to offer more specifics.

But where to find the history of nursing, First Aid, and Native American community health in Oklahoma during the interwar years (between WWI and WWII)? Check out the recommended readings at the end of my UHP article “By Paddle, By Wagon, By Car” to learn more.

Advertisements

Always Worth a Second Look, the Benefits of Time and Digitization

Sometimes, the most helpful resource is a newer format of an old standby.

As Finding Aids & Beyond returns for the new year, I’m inspired to look back at some old resources that have only improved with the benefits of time and digitization. For example, historic newspaper collections like Chronicling America — new data mining tools enable you to comb the pages for trends as well browse articles. Good content, whatever its format, is always worth a second look.

My email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. constantly are inundated with alerts about hidden collections made accessible, newly published exhibits, and digital content updates, not to mention new history apps. Inevitably, I file away the newest thing for future reference only to rediscover it during an impromptu online search. Or it pops up on my radar as a part of a complied list or bibliography. At first, I was uncertain how to resolve this redundancy. Now, I have come to recognize it as a valuable step in the research process — to make new connections between disparate sources and reevaluate conclusions drawn from existing sources.

CDC's Wellbee

CDC’s Wellbee

When searching for information, especially on a familiar topic, there are benefits to going back through sources for a second and third look. This is particularly true of online sources, which may have changed in format if not content since your last visit.

Case in point — I always forget about the CDC’s Public Health Image Library. Maybe this is because it is a smaller collection, but the database is still a great place to find clip art as well as historic gems, like the Wellbee cartoon first used in the 1960s during the Sabin oral polio vaccine campaigns in the United States. When it went out West, the Wellbee donned a ten gallon hat and a lasso!

Another example of the benefits from giving past resources a second look came recently when I was working on an article about field nursing during the Great Depression. I had not worked on the topic in several years and was coming to the material with new and different interests. I found new photos, newspapers, and entire folders-worth of documents that had previously been unavailable. It was a goldmine.

Digitized primary sources, like those in E-Archives, allowed me to do research that was impossible five years ago without significant time and expense. Special mention goes to the digital gallery at Cline Library’s Special Collections and Archives at Northern Arizona University. I had not been able to visit this particular archive on past research trips but knew about its valuable collections, particularly related to the Four Corners region, because of the finding aids included in Arizona Archives Online (AAO). While not new, online encyclopedias and digital resources by state continue to expand their coverage, making them a quick and easy go-to for fact checking and finding new collections online.

Of course, digital content is limited and cannot replicate the depth of a physical archive or library. But re-assessing sources online and on the book shelf have become equally important. For more on the changing nature of archival research in the digital age, check out the Dec 2012 report, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians” by ITHAKA S+R.

What are other history resources worth a second look in 2013?

Election predictions from the past

Election predictions — not a new thing as I was reminded last year while working with pre-Civil War records from the New Orleans Custom House.

On Election Day, the election prediction I have in mind is from the presidential election of 1860. This particular prediction is significant, as I wrote on the National Archives Text Message blog Inside the New Orleans Custom House, because it was written by Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in July 1860. Beauregard’s predictions were wrong. (He projected the Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckingridge to win by a slim margin.) Less than a year later,  Beauregard would become the Confederate general who fired on Fort Sumter. Therefore, the 1860 prediction represents part of a particularly fractious chapter in our nation’s history.  However, with its meticulous breakdown of states, candidates, and probabilities, it also demonstrates how detailed electoral predictions were, even without the benefit of dry erase boards and touch-screen electoral maps.

Presidential Election Prediction by J. K. Duncan and G. T. Beauregard, July 1860 (The National Archives)

You can find more documents from the New Orleans Custom House on the National Archives Flickr page or in the ARC catalog. Learn about the new digitization project underway in New Orleans to make colonial Louisiana records more accessible.

For all things presidential, check out The American Presidency Project from UC Santa Barbara, an online resource and searchable database of American presidential papers, including executive orders, proclamations, and public addresses.

Where is the history of medicine in Texas?

Texas has a rich history of medical education, research, and innovation. Yet, much like the candy-cane, striped shirt-wearing Waldo, the history of medicine, public health, and its allied sciences is often hidden in plain sight.

This history can be found in the architecture of hospitals and medical schools like Cooks Children’s iconic blue roof in Fort Worth and Old Red at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Or the minor procedures and major surgeries that comprise Western medicine today like the heart transplant pioneered by Houston surgeons Denton Cooley and Michael E. DeBakey. It can also be found in the programs and educational resources available to Texans, like those for diabetics and their families, coordinated by the Texas Diabetes Council.

Medical Arts_Dallas

Postcard of the Medical Arts Building in Dallas, TX. Built in 1923, it was demolished in 1977. The National Library of Medicine has over 4,000 postcards related to medical history online. (Images from the History of Medicine, NLM)

When I was doing graduate research into the history of medicine and public health in Texas, I discovered a number of important local resources. However, a lack of transparency made it difficult to identify and access these resources. This frustration made me curious to learn more. Several medical librarians were kind enough to reply to my informal query about the types of resources they have and the most common reference questions they receive.

Here’s what I found out…

A good rule of thumb for the history of medicine is: it’s kept where it was created. Whether you are looking for old medical journals, biographies of physicians, or historical information on hospitals and medical associations, your best bet is to look for the nearest medical school or public health library.

Major medical centers and universities located in cities like Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Galveston are where the majority of historical resources can be found. Extensive collections exist throughout the state in places like the John P. McGovern Historical Collection and Research Center in Houston and the Special Collections at UT Southwestern Medical Center Library in Dallas.

For example, biographical information on physicians is a popular research request. Medical school yearbooks and directories, like Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register of the United States, are important genealogical resources. Biographers and family historians can take advantage of the Texas Physicians Historical Biographical Database online thanks to the library at UT Southwestern. The McGovern Library also has Polk’s Medical Register and Directory digitized and available online.

Archives of past medical journals sit on the shelf at many medical libraries, but assorted issues are online through digital portals like The Medical Heritage Library, Texas Heritage Online, and The Portal to Texas History. A quick PubMed search can help you identify specific articles and dates to help you in your quest for older journal articles on health and medicine in Texas.

TDCedu

“Controlling Diabetes One Day at a Time,” Texas Diabetes Council education packet c.1990s

The history of public health at the state level is often less visible. Current public health topics have historical background that may not be included in up-to-date information and statistics. Unlike books on the subject, many of the primary sources (past reports, public health education material, etc.) tend be accessible only in a handful of places. Within Texas, these include:

  1. the public university library system — Published conference proceedings, reports, and education pamphlets get circulated throughout the library system as well as in state and local archives.
  2. the creating agency, governing body or professional association — Many, like the Texas Diabetes Council and the Texas Medical Association, include publication archives on their websites.
  3. retracing the bureaucratic maze to locate records within the state, county, or city archives — I recommend the TARO database for a search of Texas collections.

For more resources, check out these digital catalogs and online exhibits dedicated to the history of medicine in Texas.

  • The Texas Medical Association’s website Sites for Genealogists and Medical Historians includes helpful links to the history of medicine inside and outside Texas. (Beware, it can be difficult to find from the main page.)
  • UT Southwestern Library’s online exhibit using Omeka, “Medical Milestones in Dallas, 1890-1975,” includes great examples of the history of medical care and education in Dallas, plus an image repository.
  • The Blocker History of Medicine Collections at the UTMB in Galveston’s Moody Medical Library includes The Centennial Oral History Collection, celebrating Texas’ first university medical school.
  • The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio has special collections for the history of medicine and university archives, including a Digital Archive.
  • Texas Woman’s University’s Woman’s Digital Collection includes photos and oral histories on nursing and TWU’s health science program.

Want to find the history of medicine in another state? The U.S. National Library of Medicine maintains a Directory of History of Medicine Collections by state within the United States and other countries. Also, for another state perspective, check out the newly launched History of Medicine in Oregon website.

Tip of the week: To Google or Not To Google

Card catalog in Central Search Room, July 31, 1942.

Card catalog in the National Archives Central Search Room, 1942 (National Archives Flickr photostream)

Finding Aids & Beyond offers quick tips and easy go-to resources that make doing historical research less stressful and more successful. Do you have a helpful tip to share or a topic to suggest? Hit the comments section above. (This is the internet; No. 2 pencils not required.)

To Google or Not To Google — that is the question when doing historical research online.

The digital card catalog known as Google offers a multitude of primary resources at your finger tips. They come from libraries, archives, and museums. However, you have to know how to search for items online. Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb for what has and has not been digitized and made available online.

When searching for items online, there are two important factors to consider:

  1. Level of interest to potential viewers and users (higher interest = more likely online)
  2. Date of creation (Newer = more likely online)

In digital history, as in commerce, there is a direct relationship between supply and demand. Digitization requires time and funding to transfer that stack of dusty records into thumbnails for easy viewing on multiple devices. If a newspaper, photo, or video wasn’t born online, there is no guarantee that it has a digital presence. Both the level of general interest and the date of creation can influence the availability of historical resources.

However, there is good news! Digital history and digital humanties are a trending topic, as I mentioned in my previous post about the recent 2012 Digital Frontiers Conference at the University of North Texas in Denton. Whether you’re looking for information on the history of The Great Migration or biographies of women Changing the face of Medicine in the United States, there are a wide breadth of online resources to find.

What a quick Google search cannot replicate is the depth of research required to understand how documents relate to one another. You can still be left clicking page after page of search results, image after image for a particular name or phrase.

Sometimes, digital history projects assist in replicating this process online like the subject guides and other resources included on the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University — a cool website I discovered at the Digital Frontiers conference last week. With the technical, acronym-driven words found in government and military reports as well as changing names of units, political factions, and geographic locals, this website helps the researcher consider the best search words within its collections. There are also links to other Vietnam history resources online.

Online or on-site, a variety of factors influence access to historical records and artifacts. Think about the format, creator, repository. This information can help to explain why different types of materials are available. For instance, public figures might donate personal papers to their alma mater, but their professional papers may be located at collecting agency for the branch of government for which they worked. Government produced reports, documents, and other publications should be available through state and federal repositories like libraries and archives. But, depending on the subject and time period, they may have been destroyed, not retained, or remain restricted from use.

Bottom line: you have to be a “history detective” to find history resources online, but Google and other web browsers certainly can help.

(This post is a revised version of a paper I had the opportunity to present as part of the session “Benefits and Issues Arising from Availability of Online Content” at the recent Digital Frontiers 2012 conference. To learn more about digital history or for online tools and examples of digital history projects, check out the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.)

Digital Frontiers conference at UNT in Denton, TX

Mark your calendar! The University of North Texas in Denton, TX (home of The Portal to Texas History) is hosting the Digital Frontiers Conference and THATCamp on September 21-22, 2012. Digital history and digital humanities continue to be a trending topic at universities and libraries. As a researcher, I always want to learn more about how and why different types of records are available online in digital portals, catalogs, etc. To see examples of online historical content, check out a few of my favorite Finding Aids & Catalogs in the blogroll or on the History Resources page. Do you have a favorite not on the list? Let me know.

For more information on registration and an overview of the conference schedule, visit the Digital Frontiers website. Go to THATCamp to learn about similar digital conferences in your area. (THATCamp = The Humanities and Technology Camp)

McNitzky Printing Company 1917 calendar

North Texas State Normal College 1917 calendar, McNitzky Printing Company (Denton Public Library from The Portal to Texas History)

Scope and Content

NARA researcher

Research then v. now: National Archives employee William Lind helps researcher, 1972 (National Archives Flickr photostream)

What is a finding aid?

Simply put, a finding aid is a guide, a tool for discovery. More importantly, it is the researcher’s road map.

In some ways, doing research in history has changed dramatically with the digital age. The soundex is obsolete. If you’re lucky, you won’t need a dose of Dramamine to survive the microfilm machine.

In other ways, not much has changed. The caretaker of the books and records still is your best resource. He or she knows those little idiosyncrasies of the materials, where best to look, what types of information might or might not be included. Now as then, the reward is the same. When you find that one piece of paper or image that makes a connection you knew existed but hadn’t yet been able to establish, all the fine dust on your fingertips from turning page, after page, after page suddenly becomes worth it.

But choosing which tools to use when doing historical research is not always clear. Reading a finding aid is a skill, a skill you don’t necessarily learn in class. The first time a librarian showed me a finding aid I thought, “Wow! They’ve already done the hard part for me!”

I still had to learn phrases like “scope and content” to get the most out of research guides. Without this knowledge of how archives work, I found I couldn’t answer those nagging big pictures questions or address silences in the historical record. I had to go beyond what was easily at my fingertips to understand how a particular set of records came to be (a fancy word called provenance). Scope and content gave me a backstage pass to see when and where the materials came together and the type of information available.

In this blog, I plan to explore the discoveries and struggles of historical research. I will look at new and well-worn research tools for the historian’s proverbial “toolbox” and highlight interesting, easily accessible digital resources that I encounter along the way.

%d bloggers like this: