We are delighted to share a report on the work of our first Simbonis intern, Emma Brennan-Wydra, who joined the staff in the Medical Historical Library at the end of May 2018. Emma offered the following glimpses into her life and experiences as our intern:
I graduated from Yale College in 2015 with a double major in Chemistry and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, focusing on the multiple intersections of science, education, gender, bodies, and power. During my time at Yale, I also played flanker for the Yale Women's Rugby Football Club, designed lighting for theater and dance productions, organized a truly astounding number of LGBTQ-related events, and served as the producer of the Fifth Humour, Yale's oldest (and best) sketch comedy troupe. After college, I moved to the Boston area, where I worked as a ballroom dance instructor, played bass in an alternative rock band, and volunteered with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.
I'm now a master's student at the University of Michigan School of Information, where I've mostly been taking classes relating to libraries, archives, and the preservation of information, but I've also dabbled in data science, programming, and survey research methodology. In addition to my coursework, I work as a research assistant at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, where I'm part of a multidisciplinary group studying engineering education, and in the fall, I'll be a teaching assistant for a master's level introductory course in statistics and data analysis. (I also try to find the time to go out salsa or swing dancing, when I can!) After I finish graduate school next spring, I'm hoping to get a position in an academic library.
I had visited the Medical Historical Library and the Cushing Center a few times for class as an undergrad at Yale, but to be honest, I didn't know very much about medical libraries before I started my summer internship. One of my personal learning goals for the summer was to learn more about different facets of academic and medical librarianship, both through direct experience and by talking to other librarians, in hopes of developing more specific career plans for myself. In my six weeks at the Medical Historical Library, I've had the opportunity to get to know librarians from every department of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library and hear more about the work they do, and I've also gotten to work on a number of different projects in and around the Medical Historical Library for myself. Unfortunately, I'm not really any closer to identifying a “dream job” because everything has been so interesting!
My first project for the summer was processing a recently acquired collection of medical illustrations drawn by Mildred Codding for our library's benefactor and namesake, neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, along with photographic reprints, notes, correspondence, and other materials that Cushing used in the preparation of his books and articles. Archival processing, I quickly learned, is all about decision-making. As I was planning out how I might want to organize the collection, I found it helpful to imagine what kinds of questions future researchers might be asking. Would the researcher need to find all of the materials from one specific publication, for example, or might they be interested in Cushing's editorial process more broadly? If the materials are organized one way, it might make it easy to answer one type of research question, but other kinds of information or functionality may be lost in exchange. Most of the time with archival processing, there isn't one “right” answer. After I physically organized the materials into new folders and boxes, I began entering information about the collection into ArchivesSpace, an archives-specific information management application that is used across the Yale Library system. This facilitated the creation of a finding aid, which is a document describing an archival collection, designed to help researchers find materials of interest. You can view the finding aid I made here.
After I finished the finding aid, I began planning a small exhibition to display some of the beautiful surgical illustrations by Mildred Codding that are part of the new archival collection. The scope of the exhibition quickly broadened to include not only Mildred Codding but also two of the other women who worked with Harvey Cushing: secretary Madeline Stanton and pathologist Louise Eisenhardt. Cushing, like many doctors of the time, employed a large team of female assistants whose work was often uncredited and whose names have been largely forgotten. But these three women—Codding, Stanton, and Eisenhardt—went on to have distinguished careers of their own that extended decades past Cushing's death in 1939. As I began cobbling together a plan for my exhibition, I drew on a variety of sources, including biographies of Harvey Cushing, obituaries and tribute articles, birth and death records, reports from the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, photographs from the Harvard Medical School Archives, and collections of correspondence and diaries held here at Yale. I also had conversations with others who had some curatorial experience so I could learn more about how to create a strong, cohesive exhibit, and I tried to select items, images, and stories that capture some of what made Codding, Stanton, and Eisenhardt so special. My exhibit, titled More Than a 'Harem': The Lives and Legacies of Dr. Harvey Cushing's Female Associates, is currently on display in the Cushing Center and also available online. It has been such an honor and a delight to have the opportunity to learn about these exceptional women, and I'm so excited to share what I learned with the public.
One of the things that excites me most about my future career as an academic librarian is the day-to-day variety of the work, so having the opportunity to experience a taste of that in my internship has definitely been a plus! In addition to processing an archival collection and curating an exhibition, I've also updated and migrated an online exhibition about the Yale School of Nursing to the new Omeka platform, cataloged glass plate photographic negatives of Harvey Cushing's patients, written and edited labels for an exhibit about tobacco advertising, and more. I've learned so many new skills and technologies through this internship, but I've also gotten to do work that employs my preexisting interests and strengths. Although I previously thought I might want to work as a librarian in a subject specialist role for chemistry or another science field, I've thoroughly enjoyed both the medical and historical aspects of my work here.