Phoebe Evans Letocha, Jennifer Kinniff 2017-07-11 15:52:56
Student soldiers living in campus classrooms converted to barracks. Professors recruited to do government research in chemical warfare. Doctors and nurses serving in field hospitals near the front lines, treating gravely wounded soldiers and developing groundbreaking new surgical techniques. The Johns Hopkins community experienced all these things and more during World War I. Today, the archival and rare book collections that document these wartime experiences are spread across three repositories at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland: The Ferdinand Hamburger University Archives, the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, and the Institute of the History of Medicine. Each reports to a different university department, and each is located on a separate university campus. Archivists and curators saw the approaching centennial of World War I as a special opportunity to work together to explore the story of Hopkins’ wartime experiences and contributions. Hopkins and the Great War is the result: a holistic project that shared the resources of each repository with a university-wide audience and illuminated the wartime connections between Hopkins schools and individuals. Breaking Out of the Silos Hopkins Retrospective, a unique program that explores and shares the history of the university, served as the incubator for the project. Hopkins Retrospective program manager Jennifer Kinniff and postdoctoral research fellow Katherine Arner developed the idea of a multi-campus physical exhibit and companion digital exhibit as a way to engage a broad crosssection of the university. They identified exhibit spaces at the School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and the Arts and Sciences/Engineering campus, and invited colleagues Phoebe Evans Letocha and Nancy McCall from the Medical Archives, Christine Ruggere from the Institute of the History of Medicine, and Jim Stimpert from the University Archives to serve as co-curators of the exhibit. Having a project leader and defined budget helped to keep the process moving forward. The exhibit team worked together over the course of a year to plan the exhibit and related programming, creating a project timeline and assigning curatorial and event planning responsibilities for each of the three locations. The team hired an exhibit consultant to create a unified theme, design and fabricate exhibit panels, and assist with installation. For the Chesney Medical Archives, the exhibit presented an opportunity to enhance access to the materials selected for the exhibit. Visual materials archivist Tim Wisniewski digitized photographs and documents, and a campus photography service photographed uniforms, medical equipment, and other objects for inclusion in the online exhibit’s medicine and nursing sections. These photographs were then added to newly created item-level catalog records. When archivists determined that a diary was too fragile to allow research use, let alone include in the physical exhibit, Sheridan Libraries digitization specialist Kyle Bacon digitized it for the online exhibit. The curators had the good fortune to acquire and rediscover key objects while looking for compelling stories. While reviewing underdescribed boxes from offsite storage, Evans Letocha rediscovered a doctor’s surgical kit as well as a Red Cross uniform and cape, mess bag, and scissors from two of the sixty-five nurses who served with Johns Hopkins Base Hospital 18. The Chesney Medical Archives received a timely donation of letters written by Hopkins nurse and anti-war author Ellen LaMotte to her friend Amy Wesselhoeft von Erdberg, after the Wesselhoeft family discovered the letters in the attic of a former goat shed in Germany. When Evans Letocha found references to multiple anti-war books authored by Hopkins nurses, Ruggere located copies in the Institute’s holdings to include in the exhibit. The Chesney Medical Archives’ Director Nancy McCall found stories of women physicians who served in World War I, including Elizabeth Hurdon, the first female physician appointed to the Johns Hopkins Hospital staff and the School of Medicine faculty. Digging into files from the Office of the President, curators uncovered records of the university’s participation in a Federal Board for Vocational Education program to fund the education of disabled veterans. Sharing with the Community The three physical exhibits and the comprehensive digital exhibit launched in September 2016. One major goal of Hopkins and the Great War was not simply to engage the Hopkins community at each physical installation but to introduce them to the wider world of wartime efforts that were taking place across Johns Hopkins. The digital version of Hopkins and the Great War, built in Omeka, breaks down the information siloed in each archival repository by co-locating exhibition materials in one online resource. Similarly, the events scheduled in conjunction with the exhibit transcended campus boundaries, bringing nursing stories to other campuses and humanities-based discussions to schools rooted in scientific theory and practice. On the Arts and Sciences/Engineering campus, Oxford scholar Alice Kelly discussed The Backwash of War, a graphic postmodern memoir written by Ellen La Motte, and its place in wartime avant-garde literature. At the School of Nursing, storyteller Ellouise Schoettler performed Ready to Serve: A Story of Hopkins Nurses in World War I, and on the medical campus historian Marian Moser Jones compared the service of Hopkins nurses with other nursing units on the front. The project team broadened awareness of the exhibit through Twitter and Facebook, articles in six Hopkins publications, and mentions of the exhibit through external channels, including the national WWI Centennial Commission and the blogs of Maryland Humanities and the Medical Heritage Library. The Medical Heritage Library, a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries, realized that several of their repositories were planning World War I exhibits and decided to pool their resources to develop an online meta exhibit that uses content from individual exhibits to tell a more comprehensive story. Content from Hopkins and the Great War will be contributed to this forthcoming online exhibit. Stronger Relationships, Stronger Archives “One University” is a phrase heard often at Johns Hopkins. Working together across physical and administrative divisions to develop Hopkins and the Great War strengthened the relationships between staff at the three repositories. We deepened our knowledge of collections outside our own repositories, offered our various areas of expertise for the benefit of the team, and contributed resources toward a common goal. Most importantly, we put the One University philosophy to good use in better serving our patrons and our university community. World War I, which touched the lives of all Americans, provided the perfect opportunity to explore a common theme across archival repositories with very different missions and collections. Breaking down the archival information silos allowed us to tell a more complete and nuanced story of Hopkins during World War I. We’re already thinking about how else we can work together in ways that benefit our communities.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.
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