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.
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.
One 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.
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, Time.com 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.