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Posts from the ‘Adventures in the Archives’ Category

Adventures in the Archives: Searching for the Past

by Sarah Handley-Cousins

For much of this past year, I’ve been entrenched in dissertation research. Despite the long hours hunched over dusty papers, trying to decipher century-old handwriting, generally while cold and hungry, I’m not complaining. I’m continually amazed that I’m getting the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve always wanted: the work of history. What I wasn’t prepared for, necessarily, was the emotional work that would come along with it.

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Adventures in the Archives…Of Our Lives

This semester, I taught an introductory-level course on historical methods. One of our tasks was to consider an array of historical materials. We read novels and memoirs; watched documentaries and Hollywood films; read speeches and government policies; looked at architectural plans and advertisements for suburban homes. We even watched an episode of Star Trek. Throughout this exploration, a theme we kept coming back to was how people of the past documented their daily lives. This prompted us to consider how historians of the future will examine our daily lives. What sources will they use? What sources are we leaving behind?

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Adventures in the Archives: The Living Past

By Adam Turner

The stereotype of historians isolated in archives with dusty papers and dim lighting has more than a grain of truth to it. Granted, my archive experiences have been more ice cold and brightly lit than dank, but the isolation can be striking. I've spent entire days immersed more in the past than in the world around me. History work can be lonely and leave you feeling cut off from the present. This can actually be useful when it means closer connection with historical actors and their worlds. But you run the risk of getting cut off from everything -- both the past and the present -- during the at-times mind-numbing search for that single piece of valuable evidence within reams of irrelevant material.

After hours of paging through letters, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles unrelated to my own project, I start seeing paper rather than people. At these times, it is easy to forget that the "useless" sources are snippets of people's lives. Even if only momentarily, they intersected with the lives of one or many individuals -- people with full, rich lives outside of my own area of research interest. Because zoning out like this over so many scraps of paper can be such an issue, it's both welcoming and jarring when a source wrenches me out of that funk: when it forces me to come face-to-face with the lived experience of the past.

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Adventures in the Archives: Julia Heller’s “Boy Friends Book”

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.

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Adventures in the Archives: These Losses Which Are Not My Own

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
Lately I find that my mind is muddled. I have accepted a position at a new institution, so both professionally and personally there are big changes ahead. In the meantime, I am caught in that strange space in-between. I am finishing up projects and responsibilities here, even as I am already making plans and thinking about my courses there. I look around my home and my campus office and all I see are things that need to be put into boxes. It is a strange time in which beginnings and endings are all tangled into one busy mess. No wonder it’s hard to get anything “done”.

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Adventures in the Archives: Colic and Fatherhood

By Ashley Baggett
Welcome to the third installment of our regular feature, “Adventures in the Archives!”
In this reoccurring series, Nursing Clio bloggers will share interesting finds in the archives and ask our readers for feedback, ideas, and analysis. It’s just like you’re sitting in the dusty archives with us!
While researching in the archives, I have learned to expect the unexpected. Several times I read letters containing humorous anecdotes leading me to laugh out loud in the middle of a quiet setting, and yes, a few times I have danced a small jig in my chair when I found the perfect bit of evidence. I have also learned useful tips, such as using the microfilm machine to warm my cold hands and make my blue fingernails appear flesh colored again or befriending the archivist to make a more productive and pleasant research trip.

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Adventures in the Archives: Med School Mock Trial?

Welcome to the second installment of our regular feature, “Adventures in the Archives!”
In this reoccurring series, Nursing Clio bloggers will share interesting finds in the archives and ask our readers for feedback, ideas, and analysis. It’s just like you’re sitting in the dusty archives with us!

I spent most of this past June in Philadelphia, doing dissertation research at Drexel University’s Legacy Center – a wonderful little archive devoted primarily to the history of women in American medicine. Because my dissertation focuses on the ways that women influenced the development of gynecology and obstetrics in the United States, I rely heavily on the Legacy Center’s collections, especially their extensive records relating to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

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Adventures in the Archives: “Trust Me, You Won’t Feel a Thing”

Welcome to our new regular feature, "Adventures in the Archives!"

In this reoccurring series, Nursing Clio bloggers will share interesting finds in the archives and ask our readers for feedback, ideas, and analysis. It's just like you're sitting in the dusty archives with us!

Earlier this summer I was enjoying a productive day in the archives of the Dittrick Medical History Center in Cleveland, Ohio. After lunch, I decided to take a break from the materials I was focusing on (the institutional records of Women’s General Hospital, 1878-1984) and spend a little time skimming through an interesting journal titled “Record of Operations, Woman’s Hospital, September 1, 1920.” The volume looked like an old-fashioned hotel registration book. But the lines of each page were not filled with sloppy signatures and addresses. Instead, someone with very neat handwriting had been tasked with keeping a detailed accounting of every surgical procedure performed by the hospital’s staff.

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