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.

Oral History in the Making

History does not necessarily have to be about people who are no longer around. The Academic Health Center History Project has an oral historian, Dominique Tobbell. Since 2009, Dr. Tobbell has conducted interviews with many of the prominent people of the Academic Health Center from the past century. Here in University Archives, we have finally uploaded the first batch of oral histories she conducted to the University Digital Conservancy. Getting people’s recollections and perceptions first hand makes history seem more tangible. If you have a few moments, browsing the recently uploaded oral histories is something worth doing.

Digging deeper

The University Archives collects the personal and professional papers of senior administrators, long-term faculty, selected alumni, and others whose primary institutional affiliation has been with the University of Minnesota.

Generally, these collections complement departmental holdings and reflect the teaching, research, and service missions of the University of Minnesota by capturing the personal perspectives of those tasked with implementing theses missions.

Unfortunately, these collections are not always robust. They have been unceremoniously weeded by their creators during office moves or retirement, picked over by colleagues and family after a person’s passing, or stored in multiple locations hindering attempts to reconcile the documents.

These are generally the conditions archives consider normal. The personal papers of individuals that we do collect are done so with an acknowledgment that it is usually an incomplete set and likely the best means to document their work.

Lately, however, a new approach to digging deeper into the professional lives of those individuals that make up the university has become evident. As the University Archives digitizes portions of its holdings, there is now the ability to keyword search across hundreds of thousands of pages of press releases, minutes, annual reports, and alumni and university newsletters in the University Digital Conservancy. Trolling through this much information simply would not have been possible before.

img0175.jpgOne recent example that I came across was information about Ray M. Amberg, who administered the University Hospitals from the 1930s until his retirement in 1964. The Archives does have a small set of his papers, mostly consisting of personal correspondence and various accolades received for his performance. Yet, by searching the digital archives, a much richer depiction of his involvement with the university becomes clearer.

The first mention of Mr. Amberg is as a student singled out in the 1918 President’s Report as one of eight students leaving their studies to take part in the war effort.


As Director of the University Hospitals, the defining moment of his career was likely the opening of the Mayo Memorial Hospital in 1954.


Finally, in December 1968, the Regents’ minutes note that their regularly scheduled start time was delayed so that they could attend the funeral service of Mr. Amberg.


First mention

History is often focused on the first instance, the first mention in order to identify when something happened and how it relates to what followed. The New York Times offers a column ‘First Mention‘ that uses its own archives of news articles to determine when something was first reported. This isn’t too different from the way the Oxford English Dictionary traces the etymology of a word to its modern meaning.

As more and more documents are transferred to a digital format, our understanding of the ‘first’ of anything will become more accurate.

As an example, in the spring of 1954, the beginnings of open heart surgery took a major step forward at the University of Minnesota. A team of surgeons including C. Walt Lillehei, Richard Varco, Morley Cohen, and Herbert Warden developed and implemented a new technique called cross circulation.

On April 30th the University News Service held a news conference and issued a corresponding press release heralding the new achievement. Pushed out to the national media, the story of Dr. Lillehei’s success soon became a popular print and television phenomenon.

Historically, this was a major accomplishment in the world of surgery and captured the world’s attention.

From a digital archives perspective, we are now able to re-live those early first moments as presented to the public by locating the procedure’s first mention.

In addition to the New York Times’ pay service, offers free online access to their articles dating back to 1923. A simple search easily retrieves the May 10, 1954 announcement of cross circulation. Google’s News Archive Search also offers the ability to discover multiple articles on the subject from news sources across the country.

Closer to home, the University Digital Conservancy, the digital archives for the University of Minnesota, provides online access to the original news release on cross circulation issued at 2 PM on April 30, 1954.

There are even some remnants of film surviving from the press conference that have transitioned from analog to digital format. This may not be on par with today’s Driven to Discover videos but it surely captivated the interest of viewers at the time.

Tracking down these first mentions usually provide other insights that historical researchers are unaware of. For instance, until Herbert Warden started the pump in the above video, I had no idea that cross circulation was a LOUD technology; something akin to an air compressor in the operating room.

Turning over 25,000

The recent addition of the text from the 2009 State of the AHC address to the digital archives brought the official tally of available digital pages to just over 25,000. While this is a significant milestone, it is just the beginning. There are an additional 20,000 plus digital pages waiting to be uploaded and indexed.

For a little insight into the 3-step process, below are videos demonstrating the high-speed scanning process, the digital imaging of each page and the conversion of the digital images into full-text PDF documents available for viewing and downloading.

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.


From here to Timbuktu

healthlogo.gifThe New York Times recently ran a story on the digitization of historic Arabic language manuscript material from Timbuktu dating back to the 17th century. The digitized texts represent works of law, science, medicine and the humanities. When the digitization project is completed, scholars will have access to material that will shed light on the methods of health care and medical education practices of the sub-Saharan region (See

The AHC History Project hopes to shed a similar light on the health care delivery and health science education practices of the latter half of the twentieth century in the United States in order for researchers to better understand the educational practices, the relationships between funding institutions and their academic counterparts, and the areas of research focus during this time in academic medicine.

Although the Twin Cities is a far away both in time and space from the Golden Age of Timbuktu, the process of promoting health care education and practice are still subjects we record in written format and will be the things we pass on to future generations both near and far. Browse a few of the most recently added digitized texts to the digital archives from the AHC archives.

Seen your video

Yesterday, Peter Brantley of the Digital Library Federation was on campus to discuss areas of focus for future initiatives. One of those areas was the use of moving images as a source of information.

Without quoting him directly, Peter discussed how YouTube has demonstrated the online use of video to communicate complicated stories through moving images. These videos are compelling and promote the passing of first hand experiences and knowledge onto an audience.

A quick search of YouTube for related University of Minnesota health sciences content produced the following video that is an example of Peter’s discussion. It features prominent U of M medical researchers, Dr. Richard Bianco, Director of Experimental Surgical Services and Dr. Doris Taylor, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair.

Of course, not all University of Minnesota health sciences content on YouTube was of the same caliber, as is seen in this medical student film documenting student housing by mimicking the popular MTV show Cribs.

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.

School of Public Health

Yesterday at a Libraries’ planning retreat, Dean John Finnegan of the School of Public Health spoke to us about what he felt his school needed from the Libraries.

With a background in media and communications, Dean Finnegan’s interests include pairing new technologies with the mission of the SPH. This is clearly evident on the School’s web site that displays current SPH student blogs, podcasts, and videos (Student SPHere) related to their education and time in the field.

The SPH’s emphasis on new technologies presents interesting and exciting challenges for me in documenting the School’s activities. I hope to use the backbone of the University Digital Conservancy to preserve the SPH’s digital materials.