The Academic Health Center History Project documents and preserves the institutional memory and historical events that chronicle the development of health sciences education and research at the University of Minnesota.

Biometry, Health Computer Sciences, or Health Informatics?

Why not all three? The Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota recently deposited 45 cubic feet of material to the University Archives. This is pretty impressive for an institute that is only seven years old. In reality, the materials date back to 1968 when the relevant graduate degree was Biometry and Health Information Sciences, and was part of the School of Public Health. At the same time, the Division of Health Computer Sciences was part of the Medical School‘s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and was a forerunner to the academic aspect of the Institute of Health Informatics.

The materials in this collection are mainly from training grants and a simulations resources grant. The main grant supporting this program was a prestigious National Library of Medicine grant, which was held from 1974 to 2009 and was used to train future teachers in the field of health informatics as well as future researchers. The simulation grant, through the National Center for Research Resources, allowed the University of Minnesota to be unique in that there were computers available as a resource in its medical sciences college.

Samples of the kinds of grant reports that are available for early training grants are available in the University Digital Conservancy’s Health Sciences & University Hospitals Historical Collections. More grant reports and applications from the Institute for Health Informatics collection will hopefully be digitized and uploaded next fall, so keep an eye on the Digital Conservancy.

1950s Clinical Conference Course

The College of Veterinary Medicine collection was recently processed, primarily by finding all the small collections relating to this college and combining them into one place. One set of materials that had not previously been processed, and no one is sure where it came from, is a series of records on a course in the College of Veterinary Medicine in the 1950s called “Clinical Conference Course”. This weekly seminar was used by professors to put a collection of symptoms in front of the students and then discuss what disease might be present. The University Archives now has a collection of the handouts given to students from 1949 through 1962. This set of handouts can be used to get a glimpse into how veterinary medicine was organized and what tests were available during this era. It is interesting to use this type of material for any health science to learn how practice in the field has progressed over the years; this set of records could be beneficial to any student of the history of veterinary medicine.

Theodore A. Olson papers

The AHC Archives project is happy to announce the availability of the Theodore A. Olson papers.

img0140.jpgTheodore Alexander Olson attended the University of Minnesota earning a degree in biology in 1926 and worked as an instructor in Entomology.

He resigned from the University in 1928 and began working for the Minnesota State Board of Health (Minnesota Department of Health). While at the State Board of Health as an associate biologist, Olson conducted research at the Harvard Biological Laboratories.

In 1938 he rejoined the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor in Preventative Medicine and Public Health. During World War II, Olson served with the Seventh Service Command Headquarters from 1942 to 1946. After returning to the University, Olson oversaw the establishment of a teaching and research facility in sanitation biology in the newly organized School of Public Health.

Olson’s early post-War research focused on the transmission of human pathogens via cockroaches as disseminators of Salmonella and other diseases. In 1956, Olson’s research focus shifted to freshwater pollution and the environmental quality of Lake Superior. This change realigned Olson’s work with his earlier freshwater research while at the State Board of Health and Harvard University in the 1930s.

Theodore Olson retired as Professor Emeritus School of Public Health from the University of Minnesota in June 1973. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 97.

The collection contains correspondence, reports, and publications of Theodore A. Olson, including material related to the environmental water studies of Lake Superior in the 1950s and 1960s. There is also a later edition of his “The Scientific Vocabulary” dictionary, a popular resource for graduate students in Professor Olson’s courses.

Tools of the trade

img0134.jpgA lot can be done in the archives with a pencil, acid-free folders and a few boxes. However, there are times when different tools are required. In this case a hammer and screwdriver.

My recent work includes sorting through records from the Vice President of Health Sciences office acquired over the past 30-some years. The material consists of well over 100 boxes and spans six administrations of the Academic Health Center.

img0135.jpgAs part of this review, an intriguing locked metal box surfaced. Without a key to be found, I had to use a different tool set, quite literally a tool set, to open it.

The box was locked for obvious reasons. A label taped to the front read: “VPHS Search 1981-82.” Presumably, its contents would include applicant information and search committee materials.

The 1981-1982 search for a new Vice President of Health Sciences was the first open search for the position. Created in 1970 with the reorganization of the health sciences by the Board of Regents, the position’s first incumbent was Dr. Lyle French, whom the Regents appointed as acting Vice President in July 1970 and then as full VP in March 1971. Dr. French served for eleven years before stepping down. The successor to the position was Dr. Neal Vanselow in September 1982.

img0136.jpgOn the Monday before Thanksgiving, I managed to pop the lock and open it in front of a small audience at the project’s advisory committee meeting. Luckily, it was not my ‘Al Capone’s vault‘ moment. Locked for nearly 27 years, the metal container and its contents were now part of the historical record.

The box contained applicant files as well as notes generated by the search committee. Much of this information is governed by University of Minnesota records management and human resource policies and must follow certain retention schedules to satisfy privacy requirements.

img0137.jpgFortunately, the box also contained material that related directly to the development of the position and documents the search process. This information provides insight into the needs of the University and the health sciences at that particular point in time. These items will be retained as part of the institutional record in the archives.

8 is the loneliest number

img0129.jpg8 mm film, 8 track tapes, 8 inch floppy disks, all once promising media storage formats are for the most part gone from our daily use and even popular memory. Replaced by modern day equivalents of WAV files, MP3s, and cloud computing, our common media storage and delivery has moved from the tangible to intangible.

What is an archivist to do?

The time has come where archives and libraries are better equipped and staffed to manage the latter rather than the former. Maintaining AV rooms filled with half-working equipment for playback is a no win situation. Institutional repositories and internet based applications are better able to store, playback and preserve digitally created information than ever before.

A recent discovery of a box full of 8 inch floppies all marked as correspondence from the office of the Vice President for Health Sciences demonstrates the conundrum in the collection of historical documents. On the one hand, the content of the disks are absolutely central to the collecting focus for the History Project, yet on the other, the media is so obsolete and likely degraded to the point of being unable to retrieve any information.

The 8 inch floppy, like its successors the 5 in., 3.5in., Jaz and Zip disks, were tied to specific hardware operating systems. Yet, it often had multiple formats, disk densities, transfer rates, and spinning heads that made them even in their prime incompatible with other 8 inch disk drives. The ability to rescue data off any 8 inch diskette today would be beyond most IT skill sets and, due to the low data capacity they actually held, not worth the expense.

1980s computing taught us in the 1990s to fear the question of “how will I be able to save, read, open, edit this after the media, format, software, hardware changes?” However, in the last ten years the migration of electronic records has become easier to understand and to accomplish with only minor cautionary steps.

Changes in storage media will always challenge our preservation techniques and cause a few gaps in recorded history. This is to be expected and for the most part accepted as progress to better record keeping. I’m sure the first few recipes for baked clay tablets didn’t quite turn out as expected, yet I’ve never heard anyone mention cuneiform tablets as an unstable media.

So with this in mind I will look at my box of 8 inch floppies, and the information they might contain, and realize that this gap of documentation is an example of the jumps made from one media system to the next that is likely lost to history.

No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end

A diagram of the geological time scale available from the US Geologic Survey (public domain)The teaching of geology often starts with an introduction to the geologic time scale as a means to acquaint students with the concept of deep time and how to better comprehend eons, eras & epochs.

Although littered with catastrophic events such as meteorite impacts, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, the surface of the earth and the life forms it has supported have been most profoundly changed by the incremental affects of water, plate tectonics, and photosynthesis over the course of 4.5 billion years.

So, do archives have a deep time?

Occasionally, the events that bring records to the archives are cataclysmic: the death of an individual, the closing of an organization, or even a natural disaster. These same catastrophes all too frequently tilt toward the utter destruction of the materials and remove them entirely from the record.

But more commonly, records trickle in like water, move slowly from one place to another, and even proliferate through technological photogenic processes such as the photocopier and scanner.

These deep time thoughts, so to speak, came to me last week as I looked over a recently acquired collection of correspondence. The letters are to and from Hal Downey (1877-1959), a world-renowned hematologist who spent the majority of his life studying, teaching, and researching at the University of Minnesota.

The collection is largely exchanges between Downey and his colleagues in the U.S. and Europe before World War I through the late 1950s. Most notable are a series of letters related to Dr. A. Maximov, a Russian hematologist looking to escape the restrictive conditions of early Soviet Russia. Downey eventually helped Maximov secure a position at the University of Chicago.

However, it was actually a pair of letters that set my thoughts in motion. The first was a letter from E. W. McDiarmid the University Librarian dated February 26, 1946 on the occasion of Downey’s retirement. In his letter McDiarmid requested that Downey consider turning over to the archives any material he will no longer need in his retirement. He specifically asked for letters, committee reports, and departmental correspondence that may be in his possession.

Downey responded that “it is not likely that I have anything of importance” and that he hoped to remain in his lab space for years to come. He would remember the archives if anything seemed of value.

Sixty-three years later, Hal Downey’s daughter and two granddaughters deposited his valuable correspondence in the archives. The material joined a small collection of Downey’s manuscripts that were donated by his wife Iva shortly after his death in 1959. It was a lifetime between McDiarmid’s request and the actual deposit. It was a fraction of the University’s history. It was a blip on the geologic time scale.

If we are students of the earth then we realize that none of us are permanent residents of this planet, nor are our institutions. Yet, to invoke Hutton, archives exist because we see “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” So, we create, document, preserve, and then begin again.

Read the letters between McDiarmid and Downey below.


Image Credit: A diagram of the geological time scale available from the US Geologic Survey. Source image available from the Wikimedia Commons.

Respectfully submitted

img0109.jpgThe first meeting of the Board of Governors of the University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics was called to order at 1:35 pm by Chairman Atwood in Room 555 Diehl Hall. The Chairman then introduced Mr. Lauris Krenik, Chairman, Board of Regents Health Sciences Committee.

And so began the first recorded meeting of the Board of Governors, a governing board for the U of M Hospitals and Clinics established by the Board of Regents in order to act as the fiscal agent for UMHC and satisfy the requirements of the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation for University-owned teaching hospitals.

The acquisition of the Board of Governor records came from two separate locations. First, a filing cabinet in the basement of Children’s Rehabilitation Center held 26 3-ring binders that contained the minutes of most meetings. The second acquisition was from several filing cabinets in a storage room in 555 Diehl Hall, the former meeting place of the Board. This second cache of records had additional meeting minutes, board correspondence and reports. My thanks go to Maureen Lally of AHC Communications and Elaine Challacombe of the Wangensteen Historical Library for bringing these two locations to my attention.

These two separate acquisitions have been processed into a single collection and are available for use at the University of Minnesota Archives.

Additionally, the minutes of all Board meetings plus a few additional reports have been digitized and are now available online through the University Digital Conservancy. The material in the digital archives represents twenty years worth of recorded documentation and consists of over 17,500 pages of paper records converted to digital format.

Read through the first year’s minutes below or search for related material in the digital archives.


Marie Manthey papers

img0086.jpgOn the third floor in the Mayo Memorial Building’s “C” Corridor there is a small plaque on the wall. This marker is about the only remaining evidence of Station 32 in the old University Hospital.

The plaque recognizes the efforts of the station nurses led by Marie Manthey, then Assistant Director for Nursing, for their work to transform the concept of nursing within the hospital environment. It reads

On this site in 1969 Marie Manthey and a group of pioneering nurses created the system of Primary Nursing. From its beginning on Nursing Station 32 at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic the philosophy of Primary Nursing has become the gold standard of nursing care delivery throughout the world.

As part of the History Project’s focus to collect and make available the historical material that documents the development of health care delivery and education at the University of Minnesota, I am happy to announce the recent acquisition of the Marie Manthey papers.

The collection includes correspondence, research notes, writings and clippings related to Manthey’s work in primary nursing and her seminal publication The Practice of Primary Nursing. Manthey, who also served as one of the original Board of Governors for the University Hospitals, later founded the primary nursing consulting firm Creative Health Care Management in 1978.

To learn more about the Station 32 Project and the initial studies conducted, read the Project 32 Preliminary Report from January 1969.


Birds of a feather flock together

Several recent archival acquisitions for the AHC History Project are avian in nature.

Aurora IIThe Raptor Center on the St. Paul campus transferred 28 boxes documenting administrative history, research, and outreach activities dating back to the early 1970s. Formally established in 1974, the Raptor Center provides clinical services and release programs to injured birds, public and veterinary education in raptor care and raptor-human relationships, and research and conservation information on raptor populations. A large portion of the archival collection is related to peregrine falcon restoration in the Midwest.

The Veterinary Medical Library recently transferred 124 research notebooks which had belong to the late Dr. Benjamin S. Pomeroy. The notebooks document agricultural turkey populations in the Upper Midwest and incidences of avian flu within the flocks. Dr. Pomeroy began studying avian diseases related to poultry farming in the 1930s and remained active in the field throughout his career. The research notebooks compliment existing archival material from Dr. Pomeroy. This material documents his research, academic career, presentations, and professional activities.

A third acquisition is the digital preservation of AHC documentation on the study of and proposed emergency responses to a pandemic influenza outbreak of the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The workplan, progress report, and supporting documents are stored in the digital archives. This material was organized and produced by the AHC Office of Emergency Response.

With these three collections, the archives is now a great resource for the history of avian health care and disease prevention and the study of the human economic and environmental relationships to bird populations.

CENSHARE records

censhare-logo.gifThe Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments (CENSHARE) recently transfer approximately 6 cubic feet of records to the archives. The transfer was prompted by the Center’s relocation to its new facilities at 717 Delaware.

The Center, an early promoter of companion animal therapies and studies, is situated within the School of Public Health and has historical ties with the College of Veterinary Medicine. CENSHARE’s director, Dr. R. K. Anderson, and long-time supporter, Ruth Foster, are well known for their design of the Gentle Leader.

The records include early correspondence on establishing the Center, information bulletins regarding human-animal relationships, conference planning, material related to pet therapies and animal assistance studies and projects, administrative records, newsletters, and photographs. The material documents the Center’s beginnings in the early 1980s through the 1990s. More recent and active records are still maintained by the Center.

Read an early bulletin published by the Center describing pet therapy: