Friday, May 16, 2008

A day in the life...

I've been realizing this blog is drifting towards aiming squarely at history of medicine types, so I'm going to try to wrench it in a slightly different direction. Here's how I spent part of my day as an archivist today.

I was walking through the exhibit floor this morning and heard voices coming out of our Human Body, Human Being exhibit. The exhibit flooded over the weekend when Washington got 5-7 inches of rain. That side of the museum is built into a hill and has been flooding off and on for about a decade now. On the past Monday, the exhibits and collection staff had dismantled the exhibits against the wall - on the urinary system and bones - and moved them out of the way so the building engineers could look up and say, "yup, it's leaking water."

The whole hall (the Anatifacts area in this map), which is about 1/4 of the exhibit floor, was closed all week, but this morning Steve Hill, head of our exhibits staff, Tim Clarke Jr, our public relations guy and Beth Eubanks, our registrar, were muscling some of the exhibit cases into a new configuration about 10 feet from the wall. I lent a hand and helped and a little after opening the cases were in place. Brian Spatola, collections manager of anatomical collections, brought the specimens back from storage and the four of them put the display back together. Meanwhile...

...I was leading a tour of people who had bought a silent auction benefit behind-the-scenes tour. Our former PR guy Steven Solomon had started these a few years back. We started in historical collections where collections manager Alan Hawk pulled out a bunch of surgical kits dating from the Civil War until World War II, and then showed them wax and plaster models of facial reconstruction surgery from the same time period. Anatomical curator Franklin Damann was giving a tour of his own in anatomical collections, so we swapped groups and he showed my group Civil War amputated femurs, Ham the space chimp, plastinated organs and a quick glance into the wet tissue room where specimens are stored in bottles of formalin.

We combined the two groups and neuroanatomical collections manager Archie Fobbs displayed some of our brain slides. Instead of making a microscope slide, his predecessors sectioned and mounted slices of whole brains and you can see stroke or tumor damage. I think the high point for the group was when Archie opened up his demo tub of a brain preserved in alcohol and let people handle it. Nobody was in the Human Developmental Anatomy Center, so I did a quick riff on scanning slides of embryos which had been collected 100 years ago to make first wax or plaster models of organ systems. These are now being scanned with the models made in the computer. Finally I gave my standard tour of the archives, including a letter signed by Walter Reed, a 1917 doctor's diary, a revised confidential asbestosis report for Johns Manville from 1949, a lantern slide photograph of a survivor from Hiroshima, an album of the museum's Civil War Surgical Photographs and some of our trade lit advertising material.

So there's a good bit of a typical day. If there's interest in more posts like this, comment below please.


Steven Solomon said...

Thanks for the plug, Mike, but you should have noted that the doctor's diary you showed to the tour group stopped a bullet fired by an enemy soldier. Or am I confusing what you showed them with another item in your extensive collection? Also, why didn't you show them my other two favorites -- the document that President Lincoln signed or the hospital roster of patients who survived the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Japan?
Steven Solomon
PAO, 2000-2007

Mike Rhode said...

You're confusing two things - the diary that stopped a bullet is from the Civil War and is in German. It doesn't have anything to do with medicine otherwise.

You're thinking of this:
OHA 315

* Statz Notebook, 1855-1865
* .01 cubic foot, .33 box.
* No finding aid, arranged, inactive, restricted.
* Notebook of Sgt. John Statz, 7th New York Volunteers, which stopped a bullet during the Civil War. Contains copies of letters to the U.S. Legation in Berlin written by Statz while he was in Cologne during the 1850s.

I showed them this:

OHA 269

* Pearce Collection, 1895-1981
* .25 cubic foot, 1 box.
* Finding aid available, arranged, inactive, unrestricted.
* Papers of Dr. Jesse Pearce, who served in World War I and II. Includes diaries (1917, 1919), a pharmacopeia (1917), a splint manual (1919), a French/English dictionary used in World War I, certificates, pamphlets, and photographs, several of World War I medicine.

'Cause they were your faves, man, not mine. Everyone's got his own things he likes.

Mage And George said...

Yes, I'm just an old, half retired archive volunteer and reader. I find this kind of post fascinating. Thanks.

Paul S said...

You got it, Mike. Days like those were always exhausting, but strangely thrilling. Those of us who've left still have the soul of the collections inside us.

rachel said...

yes - posts like this are really interesting! thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Other favorites of mine in your collection were:

^the U.S. Army map case used in France during World War I by U.S. Army Maj. Charles G. Mixter when he was an assistant surgeon for the U.S. Army's Fourth Corps under the command of Gen. Pershing.

^slides, photographs and military records from the estate of U.S. Army Maj. John J. Lucas, D.D.S., who served as a dentist aboard the Shamrock, a U.S. Army hospital ship, for nearly a full year during World War II.

^NCP 1603 - the photo of an emergency hospital during the influenza epidemic at Camp Funston, Kansas.


baikinange said...

I love these behind the scenes look at the museum's collection. I would love to see more posts like this.