Picture Perfect: Teaching Analysis Skills with Fundraising Photography

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Jul 272016
 

by Elliott Earle, Educator Content Developer for Doctor or Doctress

Photo of bandaged woman in bed covered in masking marks and cropping instructions

A patient in the American Women’s Hospitals’ Women’s Ward in Istanbul, Turkey.

Primary source analysis is a mine of educational value for social studies teachers.  Working directly with materials from the past allows students to confront the complexities of history head-on and take ownership of their learning. But in this teaching treasure trove, one of the most valuable gems is often overlooked: photography.  In many classrooms, primary source analysis tends to revolve around text-heavy documents.  But with the right tools, pictures can engage many of the students that text sources could potentially push away, while working the same critical thinking muscles.

It’s tempting to let those muscles take a break when looking at an old photograph.  The information found in frame seems more reliable and true than a written account of that same scene.[1]  But just like any other primary source, an image always has an “author” and is rarely ever completely objective.  “Sourcing heuristics”—that toolbox of questions historians and students use to interrogate a source’s context, author, and purpose—are as important as ever when using historical photographs with students.

Established during WWI to provide medical care to the devastated parts of Europe, the American Women’s Hospitals was one organization that left behind a great deal of photographic documentation of both their foreign and domestic work.  Of the three collections on Doctor or Doctress that focus on the work of the AWH, two of them lean heavily on images to tell the story. Like any other non-textual source brought into the classroom, these stories will give some variety to any primary source analysis muscle workout routine.  But what the American Women’s Hospitals in particular can offer is a great opportunity to discuss the reliability of images and the importance of the person behind the camera to what is captured in it.

Bandaged patient appearing in an AWH brochure page

The bandaged patient from above has been masked and cropped to fit on this fundraising brochure page.

The pictures taken by the AWH depicting the refugee crisis in Greece and Turkey following the fire of Smyrna or the conditions of the rural poor in Depression-era Appalachia are important accounts of those situations, but like any written account, they must be analyzed with a critical eye.  Why was this image taken?  What were the photographer’s goals?  For the American Women’s Hospitals, the answer was frequently, if not almost always, fundraising.  Photography was critical to the AWH fundraising efforts stateside.  Dr. Esther P. Lovejoy, president of the AWH, complained in a letter to one of the organization’s doctors that “THIS NATION HAS BECOME ILLITERATE IN THE ORDINARY SENSE.  THEY WILL NOT READ: THEY MUST SEE THINGS IN PICTURE FORM.”[2]  Doctors in the field were often directed to capture scenes (either candid or posed) on camera that would likely prove fruitful in their next brochure.  Dr. Lovejoy sent frequent letters scolding Dr. Etta Gray for not sending back useful photos of AWH work where Dr. Gray was stationed in Serbia.  “It is just as hard for me to raise money on this side… without pictures of the sick,” Dr. Lovejoy wrote, “as it would be for you to run your hospital without money.”[3]

The AWH needed pictures and stories that would tug at the heartstrings of America.  In an exasperated complaint to Dr. Gray at the lack of useful material being sent to headquarters, Dr. Lovejoy explicitly stated the kinds of pictures they should be taking:

All I am able to get is some picture of a woman in uniform doing nothing in which nobody is interested, and what I want is pictures of long lines of wretched looking people and children standing in their dispensaries.  We want pictures of people sick in bed.  We want pictures of people who have been restored to health with a complete story under the picture regarding these people… We want pictures of people who were blind, at the time when they were blind and then pictures of those same people after their sight has been restored by the work done by the medical women of the American Women’s Hospitals.[4]

These were the principles that guided members of the AWH in their efforts to document the organization’s work.  And the influence of the creator’s motivations to what is shown in an image often extends beyond the actual act of taking the picture.  Many students today have a keen eye for spotting traces of photo editing software in the pictures they see in their daily lives, but it might surprise them to learn that this practice was also in use in the early 20th century.  Whether it was to accentuate certain aspects of the scene or to help fit all of the pictures on a brochure page, the AWH photographs were subjected to editing once they were developed.  The evidence of this editing is still visible: signage and AWH logos drawn over in pen for emphasis, cut-outs, and crop marks can be seen throughout the original copies in the records.

Is photo editing an inherently dishonest practice?  How did the pressure from headquarters impact the scenes that were captured in the field?  What might have been left out?  Does the ultimate mission of the AWH impact how we judge them for these practices?  These are just a few of the complicated questions to be wrestled with in light of this evidence.  It forces the viewer to recognize the layers of intent and bias between themselves and the scene captured in that image, a vital skill to have for a classroom of budding historians.

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[1] Susan Sontag encapsulated the idea in her essay “On Photography” when she wrote that unlike written documents, “[p]hotographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.”

[2] Dr. Esther P. Lovejoy to Dr. Etta Gray, 19 February 1921, Records of the American Women’s Hospitals, Box 15, Folder 129.

[3] Lovejoy to Gray, 16 March 1921, Records of the AWH, Box 15, Folder 129.

[4] Lovejoy to Gray, 11 January 1921, Records of the AWH, Box 15, Folder 129.

Hidden Collections 2015

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Apr 132016
 

-by guest blogger, intern Daniel DelViscio

In 2015 I participated as an intern for the HCI-PSAR program hosted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). I had processed a few collections before this for HSP, but as I think most archivists would agree each collection is its own animal, which is why we follow guidelines and not strict rules that allow for flexibility when processing. The two collections I worked on for this project were great examples of how collections can be totally different and in response you have to tailor your process in making sense of them for researchers. The Isabel Smith Stein collection on Elizabeth Cisney Smith was a collection of personal papers while the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown was a collection on a local chapter of a global philanthropic organization.

Elizabeth Cisney Smith in class

The first of these collections I worked on was at the Drexel College of Medicine Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections. The Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection was one compiled by Dr. Smith’s children and detailed her life as a female doctor in the early 1900s. As you may imagine this collection was rich in content and I often found myself struggling with trying to adhere to MPLP (More Product Less Process) standards and not delve headfirst into each folder for the entire time I was working on it. The collection came in four well-maintained boxes and was already arranged into a semblance of order by Isabel Smith Stein, Dr. Smith’s daughter. The contents served as an account both biographically and autobiographically, of Dr. Smith’s life, and there was a definite narrative to the collection before I ever started working on it. Having this narrative colored my processing of the collection and I wanted researchers to be aware of the reason why the records were arranged that way while still being very usable.

Kiwanis Club charter night

The second collection was the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown, a collection housed at the Old York Road Historical Society. The Kiwanis Club is a global organization started in 1915 with volunteer labor and community improvement in mind. This collection contained materials for the Jenkintown chapter, which was chartered in 1949. The kinds of records that came with the collection were completely different than the Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection. In it I found an assortment of administrative records, financial records, and even a few plaques and loose photographs. The collection came to me with sparse labeling as to their contents aside from the folders housing the documents. In situations like these the processor needs to discern an order from the collection. This differed from The Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection in that right off the bat there was an attempt by Dr. Smith’s children, primarily Isabel Stein Smith, to arrange the collection in a certain order. This was not the case for the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown collection. When the collection came to me it was an assortment of records in no particular order, but as I delved into each box I found that an order naturally presented itself in the types of records I was finding. This discovery dictated how I was to order the collection, a task which was difficult, but ultimately very satisfying when I was able to step back and look at the complete set of boxes arranged nicely with their appropriate labels.

Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown unprocessed

In all I found the process of making sense of both the collections to be a wonderfully rewarding experience. Seeing the progression of loose materials in various formats find their way into an order that someone else can use is pretty gratifying. It strikes a similar chord if you’ve ever built something from Legos by looking at a picture of what you’re building.

Tuberculosis Strikes the Class of 1944

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Feb 022015
 

by John Anderies, our marvelous volunteer

Members of the class of 1944 pose with Dr. Kuhlenbeck at Somerton Airport, Philadelphia. Drexel University College of Medicine, Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy.

Following their first demanding year at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, the women of the class of 1944 were rewarded with a trip to Somerton Airport in northeast Philadelphia. There, Professor of Anatomy Hartwig Kuhlenbeck, himself a licensed pilot, took the young women on flights in his Challenger biplane. A German immigrant who later served in the United States Army Medical Corps during WWII, Kuhlenbeck kept a detailed Tagbuch or Daybook for much of his life:

Donnerstag, Freitag und Sonnabend, den 29., 30., und 31. Mai fliege ich zu Somerton in meinem Challenger zahlreiche kurze Passagierfluge fur meine Studentinnen vom Woman’s Medical College. Ich habe zum Schluss dieses akademischen Jahres die Klasse des ersten Studienjahres – die “freshman class” – zu einem Fluge eingeladen und wir haben diese Klasse von 39 Studentinnen hierzu in drei Gruppen auf drei aufeinanderfolgende Tage verteilt – ich kann bei jedem Fluge je zwei Passagiere im vorderen Cockpit unterbringen. Auch meine Assistentinnen und die Laborantin sind bei dieser Veranstaltung einbegriffen.1

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 29th, 30th, and 31st of May, I’m flying many short passenger flights in my Challenger at Somerton for my students from the Woman’s Medical College. For the end of this academic year, I invited the first-year class (the “freshman class”) to take a flight, and we’ve divided this class of thirty-nine students into three groups on three successive days. I can accommodate two passengers in the front cockpit on each flight. My assistants and laboratory technician are also included in this event.

The class of 1944 was originally composed of 41 women. During this weekend of sailing through the skies, none would have expected the changes that were to come. According to an oral history interview conducted with one classmate, almost a third of the women had to drop out of medical school because they contracted tuberculosis. Most of these women did not make it back to finish their degrees. Sadly, at least two of the women died of the disease. Continue reading »


  1. Tagenbuchblaetter, 1938-1941. Hartwig Kuhlenbeck papers. Drexel University College of Medicine, Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy. 

Request for Proposals: Anniversary Project (oral histories and calendar)

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Apr 092012
 

Staff of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership

The Legacy Center is seeking proposals for an anniversary project for the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine. The project will result in oral histories and a printed calendar reflecting the Institute’s 20-year history.

The Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership initiates, sponsors, administers and coordinates a wide range of programs to advance women’s health and women’s leadership. With the overall theme, “Making a World of Difference,” the Institute pursues its mission to “honor the past, enrich the present and create the future.”  It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2013.  Additional details about the Institute can be found in the RFP (PDF) and on their website.

On behalf of the Institute, the Legacy Center is producing the oral histories and calendar. The projects’ research and production will result in video recordings and the calendar illustrating the Institute’s origins and growth. The Legacy Center is seeking services to produce the anniversary project, including research, organizing and conducting oral history interviews and writing and designing the printed calendar. The RFP process will identify qualified candidates for the project.

The full RFP is posted here: http://bit.ly/ducomlcrfp2012apr (PDF). The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2012.

Additional background documents:

IWHL 2011 Annual Report
IWHL 1997 Annual Report
History of the Drexel University College of Medicine (brief)

 Posted by on April 9, 2012

Ada Lovelace Day: A Visit from Marie Curie

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Mar 242010
 

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, we look back at May 23, 1921, when the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania hosted a distinguished visitor – Marie Curie.

Dean Martha Tracy (herself a WMC alumna, class of 1904) spoke at the occasion:

“…it is singularly appropriate that the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, firm in its hard-won position in the first rank of American medical schools, should greet with profound sympathy and due reverence this woman citizen of a fellow-republic who has likewise won through years of self-sacrificing devotion to research her deserved position as the foremost of living scientists.”

Curie was granted an honorary degree – but she herself was absent on that day due to illness (only the year before, she had begun to experience symptoms caused by exposure to radioactivity). In her place, her daughter Irène Curie accepted the honor; Mme. Curie recovered the next day, and a student took a photograph of her with Dr. Tracy to document her visit to the College.

Of course, the visit was not simply a social call – Mme. Curie was on a fundraising tour. Through a campaign organized by Marie ‘Missy’ Mattingly Meloney, editor of The Delineator, a popular women’s magazine, more than $100,000 was ‘raised by women‘ and Mme. Curie was presented with a gram of radium by President Harding ‘on behalf of the women of America.’

The Medical Woman’s Journal also documented the endeavor it described the lack of radium in post-war France and Mme. Curie’s financial position:

“Madame Curie is a teacher of science and she has a teacher’s salary. She is one of the richest women in the world in scientific lore, but she has given the fruits of her labor to her laboratory. So she could not afford to travel westward.”

In a later issue, Madame Curie’s trip and the overall fundraising effort were described in an editorial as ‘Women’s Gift to a Woman for the Benefit of Mankind‘ – it went on to note that:

“Every progressive step taken by women has been secured by fighting against custom and prejudice; it has been a continual revolt against the established order. That is the reason women make such good revolutionists.”

For thousands of other blog posts on women in science and technology, check out Finding Ada – and for more on the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, follow us on Twitter. Thanks for visiting!

Latest Construction Photos: Nearly There!

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Sep 152009
 

Despite last week’s torrential rain, some brave members of Team Archives went to the Queen Lane campus to check on the progress of our new building – and it’s almost at the ‘finishing touches’ stage. Without further ado, a quick photo tour:

An exterior wall, just outside the lobby

Stairs off the lobby head down to the Archives, as is right and proper

Inside the future stacks – note the rails for the compact shelving

We will host future researchers here, in the reading room

Office interior – the windows may be well above eye level, but they still allow natural light!

Louisville Floods & Racing History

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Aug 052009
 

The entrance to the Derby Museum is just to the left of this gateIt’s typically an extremely rare occurrence when my worlds collide – oddly, this is the second time it has happened this year.

As many in the archival world know, I write about horse racing. And some in the horse racing world have a vague idea that I’m an archivist, but people in both spheres are probably a little unclear about what happens in the other one.

Here’s the short version for each group – first, for the archivists: horses run around a track and I comment on it. American horse racing has a long and storied history that could be more (and here I’m dropping in a professional buzzword) accessible – but more on that later. For the racing folk: archivists preserve documents, photographs, ephemera, etc. from the past so that people (and not just historians) can learn about (and from) that shared past. We also do a lot of complicated things with digitization and metadata – while the usual adjectives employed to describe our profession are ‘dusty’ or ‘musty,’ that’s only a small part of what we do.

Quite often, the archives (and the archivists who work there) are located in the basement – and that becomes a major issue in, say, a flood. The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs just completed a renovation to their basement (where the storage and, as ever, archives are), including new shelving, when they were hit by a flash flood yesterday.

New shelving to an archivist is a precious commodity – we are rarely lucky enough to get shelving that is truly designed for archival use and it is difficult to raise money for it (as we have been doing in our archives for many a long day) because it’s not immediately apparent to someone outside the profession how much the right shelves help protect and maintain the collection.

But of course, even the best compact shelving cannot save the collections from the archivist’s second-greatest fear – water. At least one of the comments on the Courier-Journal article by Jennie Rees is wondering why the historical collections were stored in the basement, where they would be subject to flooding – and while that may seem unusual to the public, that’s essentially standard practice; except for the few institutions that have successfully implemented a visible storage project, cultural institutions cannot take up exhibit space with shelves and processing space – and you need a large open space for most useful shelving systems. Best practices may seek to get the archives and artifact storage above the flood line, but it rarely happens – indeed, when our archives moves into our new building, we will again be in the basement. (It may come as something of a surprise to some to discover that water damage happens even when collections are stored on higher levels – leaky pipes are a constant source of worry in the archival world).

Regardless of how the water gets in, archivists usually respond in just the way the Derby Museum staff did – by creating a human chain to get the materials and artifacts to higher ground. To add insult to injury, several museum employees lost their cars to the floodwaters while working to save the collections – but the good news is that it seems nothing was lost – just made very wet. Conserving wet materials is not as easy as just letting them dry off – the most effective approach is to have them freeze-dried and dealt with by a disaster mitigation firm. Obviously, that’s not cheap, but some organizations are lucky enough to have insurance to cover those costs – I don’t know whether that’s true of the Museum, but I hope they are able to get their collections back to the pre-flood state I enjoyed when visiting the Museum only last month.

Public libraries are rarely that fortunate – and the Louisville Public Library sustained very serious damage to both the physical plant and the books and computers (as did several of the branch libraries). In their case, a fund has been set up and donations are being accepted; keeping libraries running can be a challenge under the best circumstances, but the combination of a down economy and a major disaster is one that no library director wants to face – it’s a worthy cause.

I mentioned accessibility above and the lack of accessibility to horse racing history was, rather serendipitously, the topic of Teresa Genaro’s article in The Saratogian today (a note to the archivists reading – Teresa writes the rather wonderful Brooklyn Backstrech blog and was one of my co-bloggers for BelmontStakes.com this year). She noted how difficult it was to authoritatively establish basic facts not only from the more distant past, but even statistics from recent years – and as someone on both sides of that fence, I couldn’t agree more with her conclusions. American racing history is fairly widely dispersed – there’s the Keeneland Library, the currently-damp Kentucky Derby Museum, the International Museum of the Horse, the National Museum of Racing and the National Sporting Library and while there is some crossover, for the most part, each has a different collection policy and research goals.

That list does not even begin to take into account an individual racetrack’s holdings (and who knows what happens when they close – where are the records of Ak-Sar-Ben? Who will take on those of Hollywood Park?) including their film and video storage. Other sources of racing history, like the Daily Racing Form or Equibase, tend to be considerably more proprietary about their information. Unlike the aforementioned libraries and museums, making their information accessible is not the goal – and while that makes a certain amount of sense in their business models, it would be nice if they turned their data over to one of the aforementioned institutions or had a records management policy that involved making that data available online (with a preservation copy elsewhere) after a certain time period – I’d be happy to recommend a number of Kentucky-based archivists for the job.

It’s difficult enough for researchers to find the information they are looking for under normal conditions; dealing with a disaster like the flooding in Kentucky makes the archivist’s goal of preserving the past and providing access that much more difficult. The only potential upside is that the spotlight these cultural institutions unwittingly find themselves in brings in some much-needed funds for repairs and, hopefully, future improvements that serve both the collections and the public.

Construction Update: July

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Jul 162009
 

We were lucky enough to get some updated photos of how construction is proceeding; while it’s certainly exciting to see the exterior come together, we were thrilled to get some previews of our actual workspace as well.

Building exterior: those partial windows at the bottom left will be ours.

Inside (and, you’ll notice, down the stairs, as is the rule for archives): we’re reasonably sure this is where the compact shelving is going.

Interior: this looks to be the reading room (or the office watching over it – we’re not entirely sure which side of the wall we’re seeing).

Interior again: Finally, an office! And, in an even more exciting development, we can see what I understand is a ‘window’ – something nary a one of us has had at work for years. Granted, it’s above eye level, but it’s still natural light.

Now we just need to figure out how and when we’re moving everything…