A Walk Through Health History

Before visiting the archive, I had envisioned it as a something nearly identical to a library, but with a more quaint atmosphere. Having never visited an archive before, I assumed one would walk in and be greeted by rows of shelves of medical journals, encyclopedias, and manuals and be able to pick out whatever book suited one’s research or interest. After visiting the archive, I could clearly see how my preconceived notions of McGovern Historical Center were incorrect. The archive stands as a place of passion and progress. No one is meandering through the warehouse-like shelves. Rather, people are there to research to better contribute to the field of public health.

The kinds of people who would regularly frequent the archive never crossed my mind before the visit, but it became fairly obvious as in walked a group of college freshman (mostly). To the employees of the archive, we were an odd sight be been seen walking through the door, our presence being worthy of photo documentation throughout our visit. Rather than the usual visitors, researcher, professors, historians, etc., I imagine that our visit presented a new insight into the future of academic interest in the medical field, a future which is faced with the challenges such as global warming and upcoming infectious diseases of the newest global health era.

Despite all of this, our interactions with the materials themselves were the most impactful part of our visit. Flipping freely through materials whose lives spanned decades, we given the opportunity to have a unique glimpse into our relationship with the history of public health how it has impacted modern medicine. Personally, this glimpse was most compelling as I gravitated toward the wood-handled surgical equipment. It is easy to imagine technological progress as an abstract concept, but the unsterile wooden handles of the tools provided a concrete example of how public health has evolved.


Overall, I am reminded of our first assignment: defining public health. The archive encompasses what we all realized as we shared our own personal perspective on the definition of public health, each different from the next. The archive was no different. Every book, journal, and manual has a unique grasp on the evolving and vast field of public health. All of the encounters and experience of this trip combined, it is easy to see the bigger picture of the McGovern Historical Center: To provide those of us with a passion for health, literature, and history an avenue to explore that passion.


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