Comparing Drug Addiction/Treatment in the Past and the Present

The Psychiatric Bulletin is a selection of various articles focusing upon different components of psychiatry which include but are not limited to thumbsucking, alcoholism, and drug abuse/addiction. For our particular project, we will be focusing on drug addiction and abuse in the 1960s and compare it to the present day.

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To portray our project we will be creating a brochure and a short video presenting how drug abuse and treatment was like in the 1960s as well as comparing it to the present day. With the brochure, we would be able to highlight the cultural and social impact that drug addiction and abuse starting from the roots of addiction all the way to the treatment plans created by physicians in the 1960s. The Psychiatric Bulletin is interesting as it places more emphasis upon the social and cultural impact of diseases rather than solely the biological impact. Furthermore, we will also be creating a short video containing more information comparing drug addiction, abuse, and treatment from the 1960s to the present. This video would be able to be accessed virtually anymore with more ease so it could potentially reach a larger audience.

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Ultimately, we hope to aim our research towards medical humanities researchers who are currently researching drug abuse, addiction, and treatment in the past and present. With the information that we present in our brochure and video, we hope that the researchers gain new knowledge about drug culture. And with this new knowledge, our group hopes that the researchers will be able to discover new trends and perspectives which will ultimately aid researchers to develop the best way to treat drug addiction in the present based upon our past actions.

However, to do this, more research will have to be conducted aside from our archival materials. We were planning on using resources at Fondren and other online scholarly articles to find more information published about drug addiction and treatment in more recent articles. Based upon the similarities and differences between the past and present, we will hopefully be able to provide more information about better ways of treatment in the present.

Visiting the Backstage of Medical History

When I heard that we would be visiting an archive, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t understand the relevance of an archive, because I imagined that any information a researcher needed could be accessed in a library or on the Internet.

However, after touring the McGovern Historical Center and listening to Ms. Yates describe the archive’s purpose, I realized that I had been very narrow-minded. Walking down the aisles filled with books, photographs, film reels, and other odd artifacts, I realized that all the resources we have access to online are only available after an archivist has sorted, cataloged, and photographed those documents.

I was fascinated when Ms. Yates pointed out surgical tools from the late 1800s and explained how you could tell that the instruments were designed prior to the discovery of the germ theory of disease: the wooden handle of the blade easily absorbed blood that dripped down the blade, providing a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Her example made clear the opportunities that an archive can provide to researchers.

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Surgical kit circa 1850-1880 (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center)

I was surprised when we were allowed to touch the archival material. It fascinated me to imagine a surgeon holding the same instrument and operating on patients over 100 years ago. It’s primary sources like these that cannot be digitized but can only be experienced and analyzed at an archive.

I also learned that an archive’s main role is to organize and preserve unpublished work. This reminded me of an assignment I did in high school where I analyzed poetry by Sylvia Plath. During my research, I had found photographs of Plath’s notes and prior drafts, which had given me further insight into Plath’s ideas. It was only after our visit to the archive that I realized that I was able to access those photographs because of the existence of archives.

At the archive, it was interesting to see the kinds of unpublished work that a medical archive stored, including physician notes, film reels of surgeries, and original magazine artwork. I particularly enjoyed looking at the original contact sheets and negatives for an article in the Medical World News; we could identify which photos the magazine decided to publish over others.

Archives give us a behind-the-scenes perspective of published work that we sometimes take for granted. Through archives, we are able to see the authentic and original ideas and content that may have been lost in the publishing process. This backstage perspective of an archive gives us vital raw information to help us analyze and understand history with more insight.

Journey into an Ancient Dimension

The bus pulled up to what seemed to be a desolate parking lot, and looking around, I remember thinking, “Oh, of course. This is it.” A California native, I was still adjusting to the “empty zones” of Texas – the space between buildings and streets into which one could gaze for a moment and not be disturbed by the nuances of city life, as in the Bay Area. The Historical Center seemed to be located in one of these “empty zones,” and so I indifferently followed my peers through a glass door, having similar expectations for the inside.

I soon discovered these expectations had been extraordinarily low. Laid on a table surrounded by endless stacks of journals and volumes were instruments, texts, and visuals from another era of medicine. The anatomy-loving, intricacy-seeking geek within me jumped to life. I picked up the “amputation devices” of past centuries and reveled in their rusty glow. The idea of touching an object from another time and place was exciting beyond measure. The instrument in my hand, I realized, was a representation of how far science had come. Doctors no longer believed in mysticism, bled out their patients, and used saws as amputation devices in the twenty-first century. Just like our bodies, we had evolved. Science had evolved. And the documents on this table in this archive center were a testament to that evolution.

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The texts and collections in the archive center were not just a static collection of irrelevant facts. They were a part of ongoing studies of issues still relevant today. Looking through the Psychiatry Bulletin, words such as “psychosis,” “anorexia,” and “retardation” caught my attention because of their prominence today. I realized the Bulletin was a reflection of the norms, stereotypes, and views of another era, so not only was I learning facts by glancing through the documents, I was also learning history. And by conducting research on these topics and connecting it with issues today, I was becoming a part of the history and the quest of furthering knowledge that extended through time and space.

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I walked away from the archive excited to begin my research on The Psychiatry Bulletin and explore the opinions of another era and in awe of the mystery, discovery, and dynamism characteristic of the McGovern Historical Center.

Learning from the Past

From the introduction that Sandra Yates (one of the archivists) gave, I learned that an archive is defined as unpublished material, and that archivists take pictures of the items before doing inventory. Ms. Yates then led us into the technology room, where archivists digitize the information on floppy disks to make the contents more accessible.

We eventually moved to the stacks, which consisted of shelves that were filled with books and other files. In the stacks, we had the opportunity to work with material relating to our archive topics. The material ranged from 1969 articles on Dr. Cooley’s artificial heart to surgical tools from the 1800s (pictures taken at the McGovern Historical Center below).

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Surgical kit, circa 1850-1880 (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center)

The material turned out to be more accessible that I had thought—I figured it was a “look, but don’t touch” situation—because we could actually touch and interact with the material. Ms. Yates soon told us that it is sometimes safer to handle archival material without gloves, because this way, we can actually feel what we are holding (and not accidentally rip or break anything).

During our time there, I gravitated toward the articles on the artificial heart to learn more about the context of the experiment. The articles were intriguing because they explored the role of federal guidelines in medicine, as well as this ongoing question: how closely must a physician follow these guidelines when conducting clinical trials of a new discovery? I also found the Psychiatric Bulletin compelling due to its focus on mental illness, which this artwork (below) exemplifies. It is aptly titled Lost Cry—although we can see that the individual is in anguish, we cannot actually hear the individual’s cry through the artwork; this reflects how mental illness is often internalized.

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“Lost Cry” (1952), photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center

Before visiting the McGovern Historical Center, I did not have a clear idea of what sort of materials or resources it would have, but figured it would be full of antiques, such as old records and books with yellowing pages. Other than that, I did not expect anything specific in terms of archive topics. The archive focuses on material from the Texas Medical Center, but its scope continues to develop due to the far-reaching implications of medicine and public health. My visit has shown me why archives are important: they have the ability to preserve moments and topics in the past for further analysis and research.

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Something else that surprised me was the zombie outbreak map and the logo for the zombie outbreak team on the walls of the technology room. After our visit to the archive, I looked up the zombie outbreak map and found out that World War Z inspired the researchers behind the map (http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/03/20/researchers-create-online-simulator-for-ways-to-avoid-zombie-outbreak.html). Although a zombie outbreak is fictional, mapping this event can actually help gauge how people would respond if something similar (like a pandemic) ever happened.

Resources:

  • FoxNews.com. “Cornell Researchers Create Online Simulator to Map Zombie Outbreak | Fox News.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.