Don't believe everything you read

Many photographs in the archives are unidentified leaving archivists and researchers the arduous task of determining the who, what, where, and when by using additional materials to establish context.


Occasionally, a photograph will be identified but parts of the label will be so obviously incorrect that the validity of the rest of the information is also questionable.


Such is the case with this photograph.


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A handwritten note on the back reads: "Medical Faculty of 1868 and 1869."


A few initial observations about this seemingly innocuous note are

  1. There is no indication when this note was written on the back of the photograph but it is unlikely to have been recorded at the time the photograph was produced;
  2. There is no attribution to the photographer or previous owner of the photograph that would help indicate if there is any validity to the label;
  3. If these men are medical faculty, there is no indication in the note or in the photograph that they were part of the University of Minnesota or even in the state of Minnesota.

Next, the years given are also suspicious in the context of medical education in Minnesota. First, they predate the College of Medicine at the University by nearly 20 years. Initially organized in 1883 at the University of Minnesota as an examination board, the College of Medicine did not formally begin teaching courses until 1888. Second, the years 1868-1869 precede the establishment of the first preparatory medical school founded in 1870 by Alexander Stone in St. Paul.


Finally, none of the men look familiar. The most common names associated with the establishment of the medical education at the U of M are Drs. Daniel Hand, Charles Hewitt, William Leonard, and Perry Millard. None of these men, in my opinion, are pictured. The only man who looks somewhat familiar is the man standing on the left-hand side. To me, he looks like a young George French. Dr. French moved to Minneapolis from Portland, Maine and joined the St. Paul Medical College at Hamline University in 1880.


It is possible that this photograph has the wrong date. It is possible that this photograph is not related to the University of Minnesota or any other medical school in the state. It is possible it may not be related to medical education. It is even possible that all of the above are true.


Context in archival material is important for accuracy and authority. These nameless men demonstrate what happens when the context is lost.


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