First Step into an Archive

Prior to this visit at the McGovern Historical Center, I had never visited an archive and had very limited information on its function. I often thought of archives as an unnecessary cross between libraries and museums. However, moments after arriving to the Center, I was taken aback by the accessibility of the archive. I pictured researchers coming to the archive to access materials and the expertise of the archivists. The archivists tag everything in their collection in their database, making it much easier to access when needed. This separates it from both museums and libraries, where the information is either locked up or hidden beneath mountains of other texts. Another aspect of the archive that was interesting and surprising was that all the materials in the archive were one of a kind: originals that did not exist elsewhere. I flipped through magazines dating  back to the 1960s and witnessed medical tools that predate Germ Theory, and I realized both how much we had progressed as a society and how much information was stored within each page and tool.

L0012386 Surgical instruments of the 16th and 17th centuries.

16th Century Surgical Tools (http://www.iflscience.com)

Some items that were most interesting were the magazine articles that advertised various products and services relating to betterment of quality of life. These articles provide an outlet for me to transport myself back into the time period that these authors and researchers were in. Using the information and tools they had in their time, I am able to understand some of the history behind the science that exists today. Understanding the history gives me greater insight to the reasons behind all of these medical practices. I believe that these original, unpublished works at archives can provide important sources of conversation when crafting modern policy in medicine and other fields. The context that this provides can augment our understanding of our past and can give us better judgement for the future.

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