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.

AHC history project remarks

Below are the remarks I delivered as part of the introductions at the AHC guest lecture by Gretchen Krueger. The event doubled as an opportunity to formally launch the AHC History Project.

Academic Health Center History Project Launch

February 28, 2007

Welcome. I appreciate your interest in tonight’s event and would like to take a few moments to elaborate on the project that I am working on.

The Academic Health Center History Project is a unique collaborative effort between the Academic Health Center and the University of Minnesota Libraries to ensure that the rich history of the Academic Health Center is preserved within the University Archives.

The goals of the project are to identify, collect, and provide access to the institutional and historical documentation of the Academic Health Center, its six schools and colleges, and its interdisciplinary centers at the University of Minnesota. The outcome is to ensure that this valuable documentation is preserved over the long term and made permanently accessible for scholarly and administrative uses in the University Archives.

However, where I’d really like to begin is by quoting Dr. Cerra from his State of the AHC address delivered in this auditorium last month. Speaking about ways to support current research, Dr. Cerra reminded the audience that “There is a repository of wisdom in our faculty… We need the wisdom of those faculty and we don’t really have a good system for tapping it and using it.” I understand this wisdom to be broader than the traditional model of publication. It is a wisdom that comes from experience and personal interrelations.

I would argue that tonight’s topic is a case in point. It is hard to find a biographical note on Dr. Kennedy that does not refer to him as “the father of medical oncology.” He was a “repository of wisdom.”

In 1999, Dr. Kennedy’s essay in The Lancet, “Origin and Evolution of Medical Oncology” detailed the history of the medical oncologist’s role in patient care. Dr. Kennedy lamented the lack of interest that oncologists-in-training had in its historical origins, commenting, “I’ve spent 47 years in an academic environment, and I know that many young oncologists are not interested in the history of oncology. They either don’t have the time or don’t have the interest to trace the origins, and some of them are reinventing the wheel.”

Dr. Kennedy was well aware of the repository of wisdom faculty could be and he made great progress in being a source of information for others.

But I hasten to add that this project is not about faculty alone. The administrative units of the AHC, its schools and colleges, and centers are all repositories of wisdom that need tapped as well. A better institutional understanding comes from a well-documented institutional history. Without which, there is little or no context for the work being done. It is not only researchers who are prone to reinvent the wheel. We re-visit familiar ideas in our strategic planning, curriculum design, and clinical operations year after year.

Dr. Kennedy once said, “My favorite expression is that medical oncology is the practice of internal medicine, but all the patients happen to have cancer.” Dr. Kennedy believed in a comprehensive care approach. Why combat the cancer if the onset of additional health issues were left unchecked?

It is like sticking your thumb in a hole of a cracked dike and ignoring the mounting pressure of water on the other side.

To date, the attempts to stop the loss of history at the AHC have been something closer to the thumb-in-the-hole method while the mounting pressure of lost history grew.

With the AHC History Project we are gathering partners together to stop the loss. As you have heard there is an institutional commitment from the AHC and the University Libraries to preserve this history and make sure there is access to it.

But on the other side of the table are you: the faculty, administrators, department heads, administrative staff, students, and family. You are part of this project as well. You are the people who understand the history by living through it. We will need your help at locating it and bringing it out into the light so that it can be preserved and others can have access to it. You are part of our insurance against the dike breaking.

Thank you for coming tonight. Your interest in the AHC’s history demonstrates that we have a great foundation for us to develop this project and see the repository of wisdom of the Academic Health Center built.

Thank you.

AHC history round table

On Wednesday, February 21st, the AHC History Project hosted a small round table discussion on the history of the AHC. The seven participants included Frank Cerra, SrVPHS; Neal Gault, former Dean Medical School; Harry Hogenkamp, former head of Dept. of Biochemistry; John Kersey, Director Cancer Center; John Kralewski, former Director Institute of Health Services Research, Public Health; Marilyn Sime, former Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies, School of Nursing; and Charlene Thoemke, Executive Assistant, SrVPHS, and agreed to answer a few open ended questions and express some of their own in a conversational format. The invited audience included a few members of the advisory committee, AHC Office of Communications staff, and University Archives staff. It was hoped that a small audience would not inhibit the overall discussion.

For nearly three hours, the participants discussed their own backgrounds at the AHC, their understandings of major events and milestones, education and research issues, the influence of managed care on the AHC’s mission, and current and future funding concerns.

The discussion was professionally videotaped and all participants agreed to the recording being deposited in University Archives for future research use.

The ultimate goal of the round table was to better guide the history project by bringing in key individuals to help identify topics and events. Although this was an experiment, its success seems evident and will likely support a series of future round table discussions.

AHC History Project Lecture

B.J. Kennedy and the Campaign for Medical Oncology
by Gretchen Krueger, historical consultant for the American Society of Clinical Oncology from 2003-06m
Location: Mayo Memorial Auditorium
Contact: For further information, contact Jenny Meslow at 626-7072 or email

The Academic Health Center and University Libraries will launch the AHC History Project with a special lecture honoring the late University of Minnesota oncologist B.J. Kennedy. Gretchen Krueger, historical consultant for the American Society of Clinical Oncology from 2003-06, will speak on “B.J. Kennedy and the Campaign for Medical Oncology,” Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Mayo Memorial Auditorium. A reception will follow in the auditorium lobby. The AHC History Project is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the Academic Health Center and promoting the collection of its historical documents within the University Archives. For more information, go to:

State of the AHC

Last Wednesday, January 31, 2007, Dr. Frank Cerra, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, delivered his annual State of the AHC address (streaming video available). Several pieces of his presentation struck a chord with me and demonstrate relationships with the overall goals of this project. I’d like to discuss one of those pieces below.

During his explanation of his vision for research, he listed the following bullet point under the topic of concerns & issues.

  • We need to value and use wisdom of existing faculty/staff

What he said was:

The final concern I heard in this area was find a better way to value and utilize faculty wisdom. There is a repository of wisdom in our faculty… We need the wisdom of those faculty and we don’t really have a good system for tapping it and using it. It’s part of a dialogue that’s on going and I think we need to really learn how to do this. (35:21, streaming video)

I think this is a key approach to better help faculty and their departments understand the importance of their work and its relevance beyond publication. Lecture notes, correspondence, presentations, committee work, all these facets of a faculty member’s life represent the whole of their repository of wisdom. Believing that a life-time career can be easily measured in the publications left behind paints a false portrait of a faculty member’s work. It is linear and flat. It gives the impression that their work began with Point A and finished at Point B.

We all know a professional career is not that simple. It is full of false starts and the abandonment of some research questions to pursue others. It is dynamic and multileveled. It is not a portrait done by a connect-the-dots strategy, but one done in pointillism. What may seem random dots of color up close, in fact, come into focus as you step away from the canvas.

Archives can act as part of the solution for the concerns & issues raised in this vision for research. They can act not only as a source for information, but also as a model for how to organize the repository of wisdom being created at that moment.