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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Drexel University College of Medicine

Drexel University College of Medicine

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I Love It When a Plan Comes Together!

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

One of the lessons I’ve learned during the course of this project is that often, despite your best efforts, processing will inevitably lead to snags that slow down your pace and extend processing time. When you’re aiming for 4 hours per linear foot in order to stay under the minimal processing time requirements, this can definitely cause some problems. While my partner, Steve, and I have had collections that matched the MPLP requirements closely enough to stay within that deadline, there have been times when it was a struggle to make the timeline work. Some forced us into item level processing. Some surprised us with accessions that had been completely removed from their original home or reordered for no apparent reason. These slowed down our processing time considerably.

How not to store blueprints.

How not to store blueprints.

But then there were the Hahnemann University Academic Affairs records at the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. This collection has by far best matched the MPLP requirements at this point in the project, despite being the largest collection with which we’ve worked. This collection consists of 250 linear feet of Academic Affairs records, coming from all the various iterations of Hahnemann University. These include the Homeopathic College of Pennsylvania, Hahnemann University, and even a few records from its current Drexel University College of Medicine title. This large collection also came to us quite disjointed, with multiple accessions often originating from various faculty members’ offices or departments within the college, which made for a lot of overlap. However, despite this small challenge, the records themselves were in great shape for MPLP. None had been previously processed (aside from one small “collection,” whose enterprising owner had taken out all the records from their folders and stacked them loosely into a Xerox box, destroying most of the original order). Additionally, because the records came from specific offices and departments, they were often far more consistently organized than personal papers, making it easier to find links between the contents and to figure out what certain folders contained, without excessive detective work.

Because we did not have to focus on item level processing or learning how to re-work previously written folder titles, it left us free to focus on carefully constructing DACS compliant folder titles, and made physical processing that much easier, as many of the separate “collections” were left intact and made into series or subseries. For example, Series II of this collection consists of administration and faculty records. We created subseries based on the faculty member or department from which the records came, which meant very little reorganization, since these records were already split this way.

A student from 1883 -- what fine hair!

A student from 1883 — what fine hair!

As a result of having to spend less time worrying about archives “detective” work, we were able to come up with some methods to streamline the process even further. My favorite of these methods arose when it came time to create the container list. Generally, we had done data entry first and then wrote the scope note after all the physical arrangement had been completed. This time, we wrote the scope notes as we created our container list. It seems like common sense now, because this allowed us to have a fresher memory of what each series and subseries included, and we were able to make preservation and digitization notes as we went along. It helped us track some of the connections between series, as well as to look through the material to double check records that were especially unique within their series. I thought that it would extend the data entry process, looking over all those records again, but this time around Steve and I worked separately on different series, cutting data entry time in half and allowing us to become ‘experts’ on certain sections of the collection. This reinforced the knowledge we had already gathered while working on the collection, and contributed to the ease of creating the scope note as well.

Aside from the well-suited nature of the collection to MPLP, Steve and I also divided our roles more efficiently this time around. We split up data entry, re-boxing, and physical arrangement duties.  Having more time in one institution was also helpful, although a variety of ‘snow days’ meant that, despite finishing about 8 weeks ahead of schedule, there were still a couple of wrenches thrown in that could have considerably stalled us were we working with a less-ideal collection.

250 feet of beauty!

250 feet of beauty!

The takeaway here is that minimal processing works much better for some collections than for others. Repositories looking to get through some of their backlog should carefully consider the fact that not all collections are going to yield a 2-4 hour per linear foot result, regardless of applying MPLP methods. Often, previously processed collections in particular make that result extremely difficult. If a processing archivist is given a previously-processed item level collection with vague folder titles and no obvious original order, MPLP is probably not going to function like one might hope. However, when the right collection is chosen, the result can be a collection ready for researchers in a fraction of the time.



Minimal deaccessioning

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The parameters of our Hidden Collections project generally preclude any deaccessioning efforts from being part of the process. We’re tasked with moving at a relatively swift pace – roughly twice the speed of “traditional” archival processing – and this doesn’t leave a lot of time to go through and check to see if some items could or should be removed from the collections. Additionally, being archival interlopers, fairly unfamiliar with the collections and procedures of our temporary homes, leads us to err on the side of caution and leave the task of deaccessioning for another time and, usually, another archivist. However, I’ve found that from time to time, some deaccessioning can take place with relatively no additional time taken for the process.

Folders of publications.

Folders of publications.

A prime example of this came in the past couple of weeks with our collection at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM) Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. At DUCOM, we are processing about 250 feet of materials in the Academic Affairs records group of Hahnemann University. This group is made up of many smaller collections of papers from administrators and faculty, as well as broader collections from academic units, assorted publications, and more. While processing each of these collections, we often noted files that we knew we had seen before and were obviously duplications, but due to time constraints and issues of provenance, we let this fact bother us momentarily and then moved on. But when it came to the series of publications, the rules changed a bit.

As the materials in the series came from a variety of smaller collections of publications, the aim was to file them all together, leaving issues of provenance out of the picture. And, as we decided to file them chronologically within four subseries, picking out the duplicates became quite simple during the final process of arranging and boxing. As can be seen in the accompanying pictures, duplicated publications were blatantly obvious.

Deaccessioned publications.

Deaccessioned publications.

After a quick glance through each set of duplicates, three copies of each were retained, consisting of the versions in the best condition or any annotated copies. The excess duplicates were removed from the collection and given to the main archivists who will decide upon their ultimate fate. Though it may not seem like much in a collection of roughly 250 feet, we were able to remove over a foot of redundant material in this manner without slowing down our process. We consider this a win-win situation and recommend using this idea of minimal deaccessioning when possible with future collections.

Excel to EAD-XML to AT—the spreadsheet from heaven.

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Unknown size: small.

Although it seems like a million years, it actually was not so long ago that our students were processing at the Independence Seaport Museum.  While we were there, we were faced with one of the limitations of our minimal processing time frames.  The archivist there, Matt Herbison (now at Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center) had a few spreadsheets detailing information on ships’ plans—information that made the collections truly useful to researchers.  Problem was, there were thousands of entries in the spreadsheets and we knew that our processors could never re-key or copy/paste that information into the Archivists’ Toolkit in the time allotted for the processing.

Because we knew that this information would really make a difference for users, we thought and thought of ways to make this work, but our best solution involved saving the spreadsheet as a pdf and linking to it from the finding aid–not very elegant. And then Matt, who really is extraordinarily techie, created this amazing spreadsheet that solved the problem.  To sweeten the deal even more, he offered Courtney and me the use of the spreadsheet for the project.

I will now make a very bold statement:  this spreadsheet made it possible for us to finish the project within the time frame.  Not only did we use it at the Seaport, our processors used it for original data entry at repositories that had spotty internet connections, technical troubles, and/or did not adopt the Archivists’ Toolkit.  Our Archivists’ Toolkit cataloger used it as a starting point for almost all electronic legacy finding aids.

Matt has offered to share this spreadsheet with everyone.  It is available here and we have created a guide for using the spreadsheet.  In a nutshell, each column in the spreadsheet maps to specific field in the Archivists’ Toolkit.  It has three levels of hierarchy below the collection level, so it not the tool of choice if your finding aids has sub-sub series and items, but for most modern finding aids, it is the ticket.  I should say, though, that it is not necessarily a quick process if you are starting with existing data … time needs to be taken to combine columns, format data, and check for errors.  If you know how to use regular expressions, you can really streamline some of this work.  If you are doing original data entry, the use of the spreadsheet is incredibly efficient for getting container lists into the Archivists’ Toolkit.

This means that anyone with knowledge of MS Excel can create finding aids and take legacy information from an electronic format to xml.  Pretty awesome! I will say that a little knowledge of EAD is very useful and understanding the Archivists’ Toolkit will make decisions in data entry easier.  Many of our students preferred working with the spreadsheet rather than the Archivists’ Toolkit, but it is a matter of preference.  I think it is a little harder to see the hierarchy when using the spreadsheet, but it is a thousand times easier fix error in Excel than in the Archivists’ Toolkit.  Check it out, try it out and see if it changes your life.

Yes, I did say that … I think it could change your life!

Thanks SO much to Matt Herbison!

Drexel University College of Medicine legacy finding aids: Parcelsus and Mary E. Walker

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Of all the different collections I have created finding aids for in Archivists’ Toolkit, two from the Drexel University College of Medicine stand out.  They are Hering’s Paracelsus Collection and the Lida Poynter collection on Mary E. Walker.  I had to do a fair amount of research to write detailed biography notes for each of these collections.  Hering’s Paracelsus collection is Dr. Constantine Hering’s personal collection of books that were first donated to Hahnemann University Hospital.   The collection is composed of books on, about, or written by the medieval doctor, scientist, and alchemist,  Philip Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, who is best known now as Paracelsus.  The Lida Poynter collection on Mary E. Walker is composed of the research notes and a draft of Poynter’s unpublished biography on the suffragist, feminist, and Medal of Honor winner Dr. Mary E. Walker.  These two collections show the variety of material that can be found in just one archive.

Hering’s Paracelsus collection’s finding aid provided many challenges.  First it was a card catalog that had to be converted into a finding aid that would fit nicely in Archivists’’ Toolkit.  The cards were scanned and then made into a PDF that was then made into a Word document from which I could cut and paste the information.  As many people know, the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) process creates some mistakes in the text.  Also, only one or two cards were in English.  Through the process, which was actually sometimes more entertaining than tedious, I became well acquainted with old German and I enjoyed the chance to practice some high school and college Latin that I haven’t used in a long time.

Once the container list was entered, I began to do some research on Dr. Hering and Paracelsus.  Dr. Hering, the “father of homeopathy in America,” was interesting in his own right and he is the topic of another collection at DUCOM.  The breadth of activities in which Paracelsus was involved make him a fascinating topic, and there is a surprising amount of information that has survived about him.  He lived his short life in the early 1500s, a time period when people considered the ancient Greek and Roman doctors, Hippocrates and Galen, the authorities on medicine.  Paracelsus challenged many of the assumptions and established practices of the time, and helped bring medicine as a science beyond the ancient traditions.  He is credited with being the first one to say “it is the dose that makes the poison.”  Understanding this about Paracelsus makes it easy to see why the “father of homeopathy in America” wanted to learn everything he could about him.

The Lida Poynter collection on Mary E. Walker is about an equally fascinating individual.  Mary Walker was born in 1832 and died in 1919.  Her father had all his daughters work in the field with him and his son.  Since they were working in the fields, he wanted his daughters to be able to move freely and comfortably, so he banned his daughters from wearing heavy dresses and corsets.  He was also an amateur country doctor who believed most women’s fashions at the time were bad for their health.  This idea stayed with Mary and she devoted much of her life to dress reform.  She first experimented with trousers underneath dresses, then short skirts, eventually she abandoned the dress altogether and wore men’s suits that she altered to fit her frame.  She even wore a short skirt over trousers and a frock coat at her wedding in 1855.  She also had the word obey removed from the service, which in 1855 was remarkable.

Her father encouraged Mary to study medicine when she showed a talent for it.  When Mary was old enough to go to college, she went to Syracuse Medical College, the first medical school in the country to admit women.  She graduated as an M.D. and went on to open her own practice, which was not very successful.  At this point, the Civil War was getting underway and this is when her life gets even more interesting.

First she served in Washington D.C. as a volunteer in the army hospitals.  The doctor in charge was so impressed with her ability that he recommended that she be appointed an assistant surgeon, but she was repeatedly rejected because she was a woman.  After leaving and then coming back, she was finally given a commission and sent to Tennessee as the first female doctor in the Union army.  While serving on the front lines, she would often go unescorted and unarmed into enemy territory to offer medical aid to civilians.  She believed by doing this she would help turn the civilians to the Union cause.  She was also acting as a spy for the Union and reporting Confederate troop movements.  Eventually she was captured by the Confederacy, and later released as part of a prisoner exchange.

For her work with the Army, she was the first, and only, woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  In 1917 her Medal of Honor was rescinded along with 910 others when the requirements for receiving the Medal were changed.  She refused to return her Medal and wore it until her death in 1919.  Often police would stop and question her because she wore pants and was considered to be impersonating a man.  During these encounters when they would ask for her name, she would point to it on her Medal of Honor that was always pinned to her lapel.  In 1977, after many years of work by her grand-niece and a distant relative, President Carter restored her Medal of Honor.  This blog post only scratches the surface of this amazing woman’s life.

Legacy Finding Aids

Monday, July 12th, 2010

For the past two months I’ve been entering legacy finding aids into Archivists’ Toolkit.  So far, most of the finding aids I have entered have been from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania.  I have also worked with finding aids from the Drexel University College of Medicine, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and I just started on a couple finding aids from the City of Philadelphia Archives.

The Penn finding aids were all electronic documents that I could easily cut and paste into the appropriate fields in Archivists’ Toolkit.  The finding aids were complete with extensive biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and detailed container lists.  I began with these because they were so complete and posed few obvious problems.

While the PACSCL/CLIR project is using MPLP to process collections at the individual repositories, the legacy finding aids that I am dealing with are for collections that have been processed to a variety of levels.  At Penn, all the finding aids are for collections that have been processed to the folder and sometimes item level.  The problems that did come up with these finding aids resulted from how detailed they were.  One collection had a 45 page biographical note.  Archivists’ Toolkit would not save this massive note and kept showing a bug report.  Thinking it was a formatting issue, I copied and pasted a few pages at a time and saved each time, until it produced the error report.  I then typed the note in Archivists’ Toolkit and saved until it produced the same error report.  This way I was able to confirm it was the size of the note that was producing the problem.  Another problem, with the same finding aid, was footnotes.  This was a very detailed biographical note and it referenced items in the collection.  Archivists’ Toolkit’s text entry is very basic and keeping most formatting that is in the original document is very difficult.  I was able to solve this by making the footnotes endnotes.

Drexel University College of Medicine’s finding aids often had detailed container lists with clearly identified series, so the data entry was rather straightforward.  However, each finding aid had only sketches or timelines for their biographical notes so I had to do some research and expand on them, which turned out to be a lot of fun, and I want to talk about them at greater length in a future post.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s finding aids are a mix of standard finding aid, narrative description, and inventory.  So far, I have only worked on three collections.  The finding aid for the Mutual Assurance Company records, better known as Greentree, was fairly complete.  The problem with this collection was that it was written as a narrative rather than as a standard finding aid.  Many of the paragraphs began with a box number and a general description, and then finally, a list of what was in the box.  It was fairly easy to extract the box number, a general title, and the container list.  However, because it was a narrative, what would typically be the biographical note was spread throughout the entire document.  I was able to go through it and put it all together for a more traditional note.  Some of the other finding aids are more or less just container lists and I will need to write notes for them.

One thing I have learned over the past couple of months is that standardization is strongly needed in the archival community.  Learning about different attempts at standardization and standards that have been created is one thing, but this experience has shown me why it is needed.  That being said, it has also shown me how and why it is so difficult to create standards for archival collections.

Legacy finding aids entered into the Archivists’ Toolkit thus far:

Drexel University College of Medicine

  • Lida Poynter collection on Mary Walker, 1850-1946
  • Longshore Family papers, 1819-1946
  • Northwestern University Women’s Medical School records, 1870-1947
  • West Philadelphia Hospital for Women records, 1889-1932
  • Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia records, 1861-1964
  • University of Pennsylvania

  • Musical Fund Society records, circa 1820-1994
  • Musical Fund Society Supplementary records, circa 1820-2004
  • Mahler-Werfel papers, circa 1880-2004
  • Edward F. Fry papers, 1947-1992
  • Learned Collection on German-Language Theater, 1832-1898
  • The Records of the Women’s Health Concerns Committee, 1974-1984
  • Collection on the Physician’s Forum, 1939-1998
  • Paul Lowinger collection, 1951-1986
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania

  • Mutual Assurance Company records (Greentree), 1784-1995
  • The records of the Second Baptist Church of Philadelphia, 1803-1972
  • Boies Penrose Pictorial Philadelphia collection, 1855-1992
  • These collections will be available for research soon!

    American Women’s Hospitals photo collection available for research at DUCOM

    Thursday, May 13th, 2010

    Unknown size: small.

      It seems almost impossible to believe, but EIGHT months ago, at the onset of our adventures in minimal processing, Eric Rosenzweig and I processed the American Women’s Hospitals (AWH) photograph collection, which is housed at Drexel University, College of Medicine (DUCOM), Archives and Special Collections.  Much to our regret, though processing was completed and a finding aid produced, no blog post was written for it at the time, which is a total shame.  It is a rich, evocative visual resource that uniquely documents the international work of the AWH from 1917 to 1982.

    AWH developed out of the War Service Committee of the Medical Women’s National Association in 1917.  It was started to finance American women physicians for war work, offering medical and emergency relief to refugees and, later, to provide general public health services around the world.  Throughout its history, the agency focused its efforts on emergency medical care, maternity and children’s welfare, and preventive health-care programs.

    In its earliest years, during and after World War I, AWH personnel labored extensively in France, Albania, Greece and the Near East to provide medical assistance to impoverished communities further devastated by the war.  Work in those countries continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s with added services in Serbia, Russia, Asia and the rural United States. The outbreak of World War II returned the agency’s attentions to Western Europe as projects of emergency medical relief were made necessary in war zones.  After World War II, the AWH shifted its focus from direct relief to financing training and employment of native female medical personnel in countries like China, Japan, Haiti, India, Southeast Asia and the Philippines.  Eventually, the organization curtailed its emergency medical services in favor of on-going prevention programs.  For example, AWH was involved in the study and prevention of pellagra, a disease resulting from malnutrition that effected the rural southern United States in epidemic proportions in the early to mid 20th century.

    There’s no doubt that the women of the AWH were amazing!  And the photos found in the photograph collection evidences their amazing work in a way that textual documentation alone could not — together the photographs paint a very real and vivid portrait of the organization and its efforts over sixty-five years.

    The collection is comprised of hundreds of photographs documenting field and clinic work conducted in Africa, Albania, Bolivia, France, Greece, India, Korea, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, The United States, Vietnam and Yugoslavia.  A majority of the images depict AWH members treating patients whose health suffered from the devastation of war in Europe and elsewhere, especially after WWI, and issues of health resulting from abject poverty and malnutrition. Photographs of work conducted in the United States document the “Rural Services” division of the AWH. The earliest images in these files depict visiting doctors and nurses who traveled into remote regions of the rural south, administering health care and preventative health care education to families at their homes.  Later images depict health care provided in established clinics, like the Woman’s Maternity Shelter in Greenville, South Carolina.

    As an MPLP candidate, this was a good choice.  A majority of the arrangement and identification was already done for us, which left a little bit of time to just enjoy the pictures!

    Interestingly, during processing there was some healthy debate over the potential use and value of the collection.  It was argued, because the images were produced and used by the publicity department of AWH, that the composition and subject matter was likely carefully selected and staged to showcase AWH field work in an entirely positive light, and therefore the collection was not necessarily an honest or good or interesting resource.  It is true, many photos in the collection were obviously enhanced for printing in brochures and other AWH promotional materials.  However, I would argue, that most archival resources (whether written correspondence or organizational records or photographs) can offer only one point of view – that of their creator.  And what creator doesn’t have an agenda?  Furthermore, it should be noted that words can be and often are just as carefully selected as a photograph is staged.  In this case, realizing the images to be what they are – internally produced and maybe at times staged images – makes them an incredibly powerful resource that could be used to inform a variety of research topics.  Besides, images of injured and ill people are honestly revealing (and heart-wrenching) no matter what.  Whether candid snapshots or carefully constructed compositions doesn’t change the fact that the subjects were in fact starving, sick or hurt and that AWH tried to help them.

    Needless to say, I personally feel that this is a fabulous resource depicting the work of AWH in a way that textual records can not.  For those of you out there who, like my colleague, do not always trust images, you’ll be glad to know that there is a complimentary collection of textual records of the American Women’s Hospitals that is also available for research at DUCOM.

    End of Year Report: 2009

    Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

    PACSCL/CLIR “Hidden Collections” Project
    July to December 2009
    Well, the first six months of the “Hidden Collections” Project have come and gone and it has been a whirlwind! The entire project team was assembled, manuals and standards were created, student processors were trained, 18 collections were processed at the rate of 2.84 hours per linear foot, and we learned that minimal processing works for almost all collections, not just late 20th century institutional records!

    The project team consists of Project Archivist, Courtney Smerz; Student Processors Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Forrest Wright; and me, the Project Manager. We worked with a wide variety of collections which span the 18th to 20th centuries and cover, at the broadest level, the topics of Quakerism, colleges and universities, and medicine. These collections include institutional, family, and personal papers.

    As proposed in More Product, Less Process by Greene and Meissner, institutional records do work best. On average, these collections, largely at Drexel University, were processed at an average of 2.18 hours per linear foot. Personal papers, at Drexel University College of Medicine and Haverford College, were the next easiest, and these were processed at an average of 2.25 hours per linear foot. Family papers are, by far, the hardest, taking significantly more time per collection. Our average for processing family records is 4 hours per linear foot (which is still in the minimal processing range, as suggested by MPLP). The issues that make family papers difficult, to name just a few, are the number of family members contributing to the collection, the time span of the collection which often crosses several generations, and the fact that a good deal of the correspondence is not actually addressed or signed with a person’s name. Quite frequently, letters are sent to “Dear son,” or signed “Your loving mother.” When working with one person’s records, this is not quite as daunting as when you have 4 or 5 potentials for the “mother” and an endless number of possible “sons.” The 19th and 20th century Quakers, the main source of our family collections in this first semester, have a few truly delightful quirks which made processing their collections just a tiny bit trickier. For example, they consistently name their children after relatives … so it is entirely possible to have several Jane Rhoads in one collection. Moreover, in these collections, once they married, in-laws became “mother,” “father,” “sister,” and “brother,” making even the most general identification of senders and recipients virtually impossible in the minimal processing world.

    We also discovered that there are some downsides to minimal processing, particularly in the description of collections. Moving through a collection at the rate this project demands means that absorbing content is really difficult. For the first semester, I created processing plans (Courtney is taking over for the rest of the project) for the collections on our list and wrote biographical/historical notes. I think minimal processing at 2 hours per linear foot without the processing plans and rough notes would be absolutely impossible–sometimes the physical processing cannot be done in that time frame.

    At this point in the project, I am not sure that I would recommend minimal processing at 2 hours per linear foot–it is just too fast. 4 hours per linear foot, I think, would be a completely different story. Minimal processing, of which I am a fan, really does work and more importantly, it makes the collection available to the researchers long before it could be if we demanded full processing. Although I have not had the luxury of trying minimal processing at 4 hours per linear foot, I am convinced those additional two hours would result in more content and more thorough and accurate biography/history notes and scope and contents notes. My biggest fear with our notes is that we don’t know enough to let the researchers know that the collection contains the material they are seeking. Time will tell once researcher discover these previously hidden, and now “unhidden” collections!

    Following, a list of collections processed, the project timeline from June to December, and looking forward:

    Collections Processed
    18 Collections
    255.5 linear feet at an average of 2.84 hours per linear foot

    Drexel University

  • College of Engineering Records
  • Evening College Records
  • Library Records
  • Drexel University College of Medicine

  • American Women’s Hospital Service Records
  • Anny Elston Papers
  • Bertha Van Hoosen Papers
  • Bradford Collection
  • Knerr/Hering Collection
  • Haverford College

  • Bowles Family Correspondence
  • Douglas and Dorothy Steere Papers
  • Harold Chance Papers
  • Hilles Family Papers
  • James Wood Family Papers
  • John Davison Papers
  • Nicholson and Taylor Family Papers
  • Reinhardt, Hawley and Hewes Family Papers
  • Sarah Wistar Rhoads Family Papers
  • Vaux Family Papers
  • Project Time line: July to December 2009
  • July 8, 2009: Holly Mengel starts work as Project Manager
  • September 28, 2009: Courtney Smerz starts work as Project Archivist
  • October 2, 2009: Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Forrest Wright are hired as Student Processors
  • October 13-15, 2009: Processing Boot Camp
  • October 19, 2009: Laurie Rizzo and Eric Rosenzweig start processing collections at Drexel University and Drexel University College of Medicine
  • October 20, 2009: Leslie O’Neill and Forrest Wright start processing collections at Haverford College
  • November 10, 2009: Refresher training
  • December 11, 2009: Finish processing at Drexel University and Drexel University College of Medicine
  • December 15, 2009: Laurie Rizzo and Eric Rosenzweig start processing at the Wagner Free Institute of Science
  • December 23, 2009: Finish processing at Haverford College
  • Looking forward:

  • Currently processing at the Wagner Free Institute of Science (due for completion on January 19).
  • Begin processing at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (tentative start date: January 20).
  • Currently processing at Bryn Mawr College (due for completion on February 18).
  • The Hering-Knerr family papers and a peek into the Hilles family papers

    Friday, December 4th, 2009

    Unknown size: small.

    A big part of my job here is to tackle some of the more complicated collections that have been included in the project but that absolutely require more than the allotted two hours per linear foot.  Over the past few weeks I have been juggling two collections; the Hering-Knerr family papers at Drexel University College of Medicine and the Hilles family papers at Haverford College.  Though both have been deemed family papers and both are nineteenth century collections, the two could not be more different.

    The first, the Hering-Knerr family papers, I actually finished on Wednesday this week.  It measures 6 ¼ linear feet and processing was completed in approximately 38 hours.  Physical processing took about 19 hours, data entry and description took another 19 – TOO LONG.  It sounds silly but data entry was slow going because there were a lot of files containing German language articles, which were difficult for me to type into the AT fields.  Description was slower because of the need to learn about Calvin Knerr, a large contributor to the papers, and include a short bio on his life, and to fully describe the nature of the series within the collection, which were not always completely straightforward.  Much of the collection was housed in envelopes and identified though it required quite a bit of arranging and foldering for almost the entire collection.  Papers, especially contemporary newspaper clippings, photocopies of related archives from other repositories, notes and other miscellany were also added to the collection over time, and needed to be removed.  In this case, those items were given their own series at the end called Reference Materials.

    Though considered a collection of “family papers,” it is actually primarily a collection of papers of Constantine Hering, none other than the “father of homeopathy in America.”  What ultimately makes it officially a family collection are the discrete groups of material of Calvin Knerr, Hering’s son-in-law and a homeopathic physician himself; Hering’s and Knerr’s children; and correspondence of Hering’s wife’s family.  The collection content is reflective of family relationships as well as Hering’s and Knerr’s medical careers.  Hering’s career is especially showcased as it was lived and seen by himself, Knerr and his son Carl.

    Unknown size: small.

    There are a few gems in the collection, all connected to Constantine Hering.   There is, a letter (pictured to the left) written by Hering as a child to his mother on her birthday; an uncut telegram tape, supposedly measuring NINE yards long (MPLP does not allow time for double checking such claims), that describes the symptoms of a patient to Hering for consultation; a manuscript written by Hering about the issue or possibility of cholera contaminating New York City harbor; and a letter about one of Hering’s patients requesting exemption from military service based on his contraction of “National Hotel Disease” in 1857.  What’s National Hotel Disease you ask?  That year, at the National Hotel in Washington DC, hotel guests, including soon-to-be president, James Buchanan, were stricken ill with a gastrointestinal ailment from which numerous people died.  I am not quite sure exactly what was decided to be the cause, but many theories, some citing foul play, were discussed at the time.

    The Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles family papers still have a LONG way to go!  As you can see from the picture below, this is a collection of unidentified bundles of letters from the nineteenth century (and that is only a small sampling of the number of bundles actually in the collection).

    Unknown size: small.

    It was quickly established, both from the survey and from the correspondence itself that a majority of the letters were addressed to Sarah Hilles, but beyond that identification required considerably more effort.  And since the whole point of this project is to provide even greater accessibility to these hidden collections than the survey did, I started to open envelopes, unfold letters and sort them by correspondent.  Phew!  What a task – especially at this rate!  I think Holly already alluded to this when discussing the Rhoads family papers and I am sure any of you who have been in my shoes will not be surprised, but these families were big and they all wrote to each other and they all had the same names across generations.  Needless to say, this has been going FAR SLOWER than two hours per foot, but it still feels like rapid fire when you consider the condition of the materials.  More on that later…

    In the meantime, here are a few more snapshots from the Hering-Knerr family papers.

    George A. Hay at DUCOM

    Friday, November 13th, 2009

    Unknown size: small.

    I am pleased to say, about two weeks after-the-fact, that our training collection, The George A. Hay Collection of administrative records of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (I know, it’s a mouthful) is finally finished!  As I alluded to in my previous entry, this collection was a bit of a beast and perhaps, in hindsight, not the best candidate for training.  Even so, I think it turned out really well all things considered and now the Drexel University College of Medicine Archives (DUCOM) has a much, much better idea of all the goodies they have in that collection!

    Essentially, what we learned through processing the collection and from the accession record is that DUCOM archives has George Hay, who was the comptroller for the Woman’s Medical College in the mid-twentieth century, to thank for ensuring the survival of these records and their disposition in the archives.  Not only did he turn over his own materials, but he also made sure to hand over records that came into his possession over the years of other important personnel.  As a result, the collection, though roughly 30% is in fact Hay’s papers, is an assemblage of institutional records produced by leading administrators of the Woman’s Medical College throughout the mid-twentieth century.  There are records for Sarah Starr, Dr. Ellen Culver Potter and Vida Hunt Francis, and within these groups researchers will also find correspondence with and other records related to Dr. Martha Tracy—all notable women in institutional history as well as the general history of women in medicine.

    *For those of you who don’t know, the Woman’s Medical College was an amazing institution founded in Philadelphia in the mid nineteenth century to train–you guessed it–woman doctors!  More on that and other related collections can be found here: http://archives.drexelmed.edu.

    All in all, I think the Hay Collection is pretty good and it has some noteworthy documentation, especially records relating to proposed institutional mergers with other hospitals and schools in the Philadelphia area.  Taken together, the records shed light on a few key events in institutional history and may inform study of the history of medicine, especially the administrative side of medical education and, to a lesser extant, how related cultural changes affected the education of women in medicine.

    An especially fun file, titled in a manner to pique any researcher’s interest, “the Louise Wright ‘Incident,’” details a student’s efforts and publicized fight against her suspension from Woman’s Medical College in 1891 (Hay also somehow acquired a handful of very early institutional records and gave them to the archives as well).  What the “incident” was exactly is not quite clear, though it received much publicity.  Louise Wright, I assume, contacted the local press, and the story as well as a chain of correspondence between Wright and the college regarding the matter was published in the newspaper.

    As far as minimal processing goes, the Hay Collection definitely deserved more than our allotted two hours per linear foot — in the end, I think I gave it closer to four hours though I can’t say for sure and it probably could use even a little more TLC in a perfect world.  When we found it, the collection was pretty mixed up (thank goodness for that accession file) and it was partially processed.  I still can’t decide if this partial processing helped or hindered our effort…  At least after processing the collection has a basic arrangement and is described fairly well.  A lot of individual files in the collection are still a mess and it could use some more re-foldering, but that’s nothing that a second go ‘round by the archivist (or a well trained student intern) couldn’t fix.  And anyway, I sincerely believe the collection is now usable in a way it was not before so from that perspective I think minimal processing did very well by it.

    Week One of Processing

    Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

    This past week I worked on two collections for Drexel University College of Medicine! The first one was a collection of scrapbooks by a man named Thomas Lindsley Bradford. Bradford was a homeopathic doctor who served as librarian at the Hahnemann College from 1894 until his death in 1918. The collection consisted of 36 bound volumes of his scrapbooks of biographical information about homeopathic physicians, with entries arranged alphabetically. Although the years have worn many bindings, torn some casings and the paper is wood pulp paper of the early 20th century (Very Brittle!!), the contents of the volumes are actually in excellent condition. On the title page of the volumes Bradford wrote, “They (the volumes) represent much labor, but it has been a labor of love.”

    Unknown size: small.

    It is clear from leafing through the volumes the great care he took in assembling them. Since the volumes were already in an intelligent order there was no arranging for me to do, description and creating the finding aid was the bulk of my work. For Bradford’s biography, he included an entry on himself in the scrapbooks. His entry had several magazine clippings of biographies about him. There were several photographs, one from his graduation in 1869,

    Unknown size: small.

    and then several portraits throughout the years and some candids of him outdoors. There was a photograph of his office and other ephemera -including his wedding announcement and change of office location cards. Upon his death, someone kindly included his obituary in the scrapbook, signed and dated the entry.

    The second collection was partially processed when I started and was relatively small. Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen was a notable obstetrician and gynecologist, as well as a surgeon. She was active in the creation of the American Medical Women’s Association and was the association’s first President. She also developed a new surgical procedure for appendectomies and wrote an autobiography called “Petticoat Surgeon.” The collection is mostly her correspondence from missionaries, other physicians about the American Medical Association and later the American Women’s Medical Association and the funding of a new Medical Women’s Library. The papers also included many images, however, they were all medical related, so I will not show them here.

    While Bradford’s collection was an excellent candidate for minimal processing, I think the Van Hoosen collection would have benefited from a more traditional processing plan. Regardless, these two collections which have valuable information for those interested in either general biographical information about homeopathic physicians or about women in medicine are now available to researchers, whereas these two great collections were previously inaccessible.