The records generated by organizations provide important evidence about the organization’s history and function. In January of 2016, I started to process the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Office of the Executive Director records. The Director oversees the everyday governance and administration of the College. This includes overseeing the budget, strategic planning, special projects, and creating and maintaining relationships with other institutions. With so many responsibilities, the office generates a considerable amount of documentation, from correspondence to meeting minutes. The scope of my project includes processing boxes the Library received from the Office of the Executive Director and arranging them to better document the office’s administrative activities and governance duties.
Because the Executive Director’s Office produces so many files, the office keeps active records and sends the inactive files in boxes to the Library. Boxes arrive with varying levels of organization. Recently, the executive assistant to the current CEO requested minutes from a specific committee meeting. Although the material was located, it became clear that the collection needed processing to make it more accessible for current staff and future external researchers.
As a freshman in college who enjoyed collecting dead things—skulls, bones, taxidermy, wet preserved animals, among other things—I always hoped that I would have the chance to visit the Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I’ve long been fascinated by death, so the Mütter seemed to be a place I just had to visit. But never did I imagine myself in the College’s Historical Medical Library poring through the original handwritten catalog and countless other nineteenth-century documents, analyzing the language used to describe “monsters,” and investigating how anatomists procured the bodies and body parts of people we might now call “disabled.” What made it possible for me to finally visit the Mütter, however, had nothing to do with my passion for collecting dead animals, but rather the field in which I am specializing: disability history. This relatively new field investigates the experiences of disabled people and also explores “disability” and “the normal” as social, political, and cultural categories in historical context.
As is the case in so many libraries and archives, the manuscript collections at the Historical Medical Library used to be difficult to find, let alone search. Some were available through the College website as (essentially) text files. Unless a researcher knew the name of the collection he or she wanted to consult, it was virtually impossible to find the correct information.
Our pop-up exhibits have been received with enthusiasm and we love surprising Museum visitors with the opportunity to visit the Library and see our collections. The exhibits in October were focused on the concept of “monster” as used as a medical term over the past 500 years, and culminated in our Archives Month Philly event, “The Monstrous, Fabled & Factual: Exploring the Meaning of ‘Monster,’ 1500-1900.” (You can read our previous post about Archives Month here.) The exhibits in November displayed our “Favorite Things.”
This year was our first time participating in Archives Month Philly. It was fantastic to invite everyone, show off our collections, and talk about them with our peers. We feel like our Library has been “hidden” for so long – especially to the general public – and Archives Month was the perfect opportunity to show people that we exist and have interesting collections!
by Karie Youngdahl, Project Director, History of Vaccines
Robert Abbe (1851-1928), a New York surgeon and Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, was an avid collector of medical and archaeological objects. Here at the College’s Historical Medical Library, we hold a number of Abbe’s items, including mementos from his friendship with Marie Curie. Of particular interest to the History of Vaccines project is Abbe’s collection of Louis Pasteur memorabilia, much of it dating from the 1922 centenary celebrations of Pasteur’s birth.
The collection includes a scrapbook with photographs of Pasteur and his family, French postage stamps featuring Pasteur as a national hero, postcards of monuments dedicated to the scientist, and commemorative tags picturing key moments from his life. However, what stands out in the collection is a letter in Pasteur’s handwriting. The letter is intriguing both because it involves several of the 19th century’s most eminent scientific figures and because it presents something of a mystery.