A Collection of Thoughts

When I heard that we were taking a field trip to the McGovern Historical Center, a medical archive, I was excited but had low expectations. I was looking forward to exploring a resource devoted to medical studies outside of Rice. However, woefully inept at reading medical literature, I was unenthusiastic about seeing ancient encyclopedias, journals, and textbooks that would probably be difficult to access, let alone understand. Upon arriving, my impression of archives hit an all-time low as I only saw a remote building with a very limited amount of bookshelves in sight.

Fortunately, Sandra Yates, archivist of the McGovern Historical Center, gradually changed my perspective over the course of our visit. She began our tour by teaching us that archives offer primary sources that are indispensable as evidence in scholarly research. This made me draw a comparison between archives and online databases: Both are used in academic research except archives seemed more hands-on. This was ironic considering Sandra told us that each source in the archive was completely unique making me terrified of even contaminating the air with my breath.

She then introduced us to the vast assortment of primary sources contained within an archive. I instantly discovered that archives contained more than meets the eye. From material such as audiovisual floppy disks, VHS tapes, and cassettes that could be uploaded online to a life-size Vesalius anatomy board, the archive housed much more than just books and journals.

At the very end of the tour, Sandra destroyed my final false preconception of archives when she allowed us into the storage area of the archive to see the myriad of shelves contained within and to touch and interact with archive items. I grasped surgical tools that could have been displayed in museums and flipped through German anatomy books from another century. But what I was most drawn to were the various articles and photos of artificial heart procedures performed secretly back in the day. Although I believe that these journals could have been more easily accessed than perhaps the surgical tools and old German books, I could imagine the difficulty one would have in finding that those articles even existed in the vast sea of journals in the archive. I greedily took pictures of all the material relating to artificial hearts knowing that these articles would be an important part of my final project in this class. By the end of the trip, I realized that the things contained in an archive are not just supplemental but integral.

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One thought on “A Collection of Thoughts

  1. I felt similarly initially about the archive; I was expecting a dull, somewhat formal place. And yet, it definitely was not simply journals. Like you mentioned, it was very unique to see first hand an 1800’s surgical kit, complete with unsanitary wooden handles. How do you think that we as students could utilize archives in other classes? For what sort of class would an archive be helpful?

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