Travels to the Rockefeller Archive Center

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to New York to visit the Rockefeller Archive Center in the picturesque Hudson River Valley. Spring had arrived in Sleepy Hollow, and the dogwood and redbud trees were in full bloom.

Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center

The Rockefeller Archive Center is the repository for the grant files of Rockefeller philanthropies and other prominent charitable and nonprofit organizations, most recently the Ford Foundation. Collections tell the history of philanthropy as well as the development of local, national, and international programs that span the performing arts and museums, environmental and historic preservation, economic development, science and medicine, public health and social welfare, education, and international understanding.

Exploring the archive’s diverse holdings was a great reminder of how primary sources about people, ideas, and programs can be collected and maintained by the entities that funded them, not just by their affiliated agencies or institutions. Like a university archive, individuals have donated their papers to the collection, such as German scientist and Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915). Ehrlich had a strong relationship with the newly-founded Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, today Rockefeller University. Still, the Rockefeller Archive Center is unique for the geographic scope and range of subjects found in the archive’s grant files, posters, reports, photographs, etc. In fact, the original Rockefeller Foundation files are arranged by country.

The Rockefeller family’s collection is impressive, too. John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s massive roll-top desk from the Manhattan headquarters of the Standard Oil Company is a highlight of an onsite tour. My personal favorite was something from the vaults — an American Red Cross uniform circa World War I. (View photographs of nurses’ uniforms from the Naval History & Heritage Command.) Such a connection with the history of nursing makes sense; the RAC convened a workshop on “Nursing History in the Global Perspective” in 2012.

To learn more about the Rockefeller Foundation, visit the new centennial website, 100 Years: The Rockefeller Foundation. The website includes a digital library of documents, still images and videos. To search the RAC holdings, explore the online collections and catalog called DIMES.

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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?

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.

A Tale of Discovery

From the archives to the (web)page. Read about the “hidden” diabetic and how one study of arthritis led to a greater awareness of diabetes among Native Americans on the website The Ultimate History Project: History Matters. I’ve had the privilege to write for this photo-friendly, historical scholarship website before, but this is my first article as an official staff writer.

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