Category: Exhibits and Events

Harvard Chan School Archivist Collaborates to Create First Historical Timeline of the Department of Environmental Health

By , August 9, 2016

A brief history of the Department of Environmental Health, displayed as a timeline. Please click the image to enlarge.

Working collaboratively with faculty and staff within the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, public health archivist Heather Mumford created a comprehensive timeline detailing historic names and department chairs. The resulting visual helped convey the complex narrative of the department’s evolution over a 100+ year history.

To complete this research, Heather relied on digitized historic Harvard Chan School catalogs available online and, with the assistance of Reference Archivist Jessica Murphy, consulted other historic administrative records available at the Center for the History of Medicine to confirm their results. Departmental faculty were given the opportunity to weigh in on the timeline, and to give feedback about what types of information (departmental name changes, chairs, etc.) were most interesting or informative to include.


Explore the Harvard Chan School’s first catalog (1913).

The history of the department is somewhat difficult to track, as a singular “Department of Environmental Health” was not present in the early school, known as the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (1913-1922). In fact, formal departments did not exist at this time. Instead, courses were placed in “groups” with titles such as “Sanitary Biology and Sanitary Chemistry” or “Sanitary Engineering”.

In 1922, after the school received a Rockefeller grant and became the Harvard School of Public Health, the course catalogs began grouping courses by “divisions”. This included the founding of the departments of Physiology, under the leadership of Cecil Drinker (succeeded in 1948 by James Whittenberger), and Industrial Hygiene, which in 1932 came under the leadership of Philip Drinker, followed by Leslie Silverman in 1961. Over time these divisions become known as departments, and at certain points they merged and/or changed names. In 1991, a single “Department of Environmental Health” emerged.

This timeline was created to complement an exhibit on plethysmograph research, located on floor L-1 of the Countway Library and set to open later this summer. It was also used as part of a departmental retreat in May 2016, and has since been professionally printed by the department so that it can be placed on permanent display within their offices.

For more information about the Harvard Chan School Archives at the Center for the History of Medicine, contact Heather Mumford.

Warren Museum Conserves New Accessions for “Body of Knowledge” exhibit

By , January 30, 2014
Thomas Dwight lecturing in amphitheater, with Dwight-Emerton skull models, c. 1906., Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Thomas Dwight, Jr. lecturing using Dwight-Emerton skull models, 1906, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

In November 2013 Harvard Medical School’s Program in Medical Education generously donated a series of large papier-mâché models designed by Harvard anatomist Thomas Dwight, Jr. and sculptor J. H. Emerton to the Warren Anatomical Museum. Between 1890 and 1895, Emerton made 20 models for Dwight, many of which have survived and are still used in Harvard’s anatomy classrooms. The donation included a 6.5-foot-tall model of a sagittal section of the human skull, a 5-foot-long model of the bones of the foot, various enlarged hand bones and vertebrae – all by Emerton. Also, included in the gift were two papier-mâché Auzoux models, an enlarged ear and a sagittal section of the face with removable layers.

The skull and bones of the foot models are being loaned for the approaching exhibition Body of Knowledge; A History of Anatomy (In Three Parts). The exhibit is a special collaboration of the Center for the History of Medicine, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University’s Department of the History of Science, the Harvard Medical School Program in Medical Education, and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. The exhibit will open at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments on March 6, 2014 and run until December 5, 2014. Approximately 50 anatomical preparations, models, artifacts, books and images  from Center for the History of Medicine collections will be displayed.

Object conservator Nina Vinogradskaya working on Dwight-Emerton skull, Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Object conservator Nina Vinogradskaya working on the Dwight-Emerton skull, Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

After 100 years of active teaching, the skull and foot models acquired their fair share of chips, breaks, and abrasions. The Center and the Ackerman Program on Medicine and Culture funded the conservation and partial restoration of the skull and foot. Skilled object conservator Nina Vinogradskaya carefully cleaned the models, consolidated their deteriorating paint layers, repaired breaks in the papier-mâché and plaster, and even restored large sections of loss in the skull’s maxilla and teeth. The models and Nina’s work will be prominently displayed in Body of Knowledge and at the Warren Museum and Countway Library when they return to the Harvard Medical School campus in December 2014.

Harvard Medical School’s Stephanie Dutchen authored an article on the acquisition of the Dwight-Emerton models and their move across the Medical School campus in the school’s news feed.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives Opens 1963 Time Capsule

By , July 9, 2013

A Box of Hopes and Achievements

PBBH President Alan Steinert handing off 50 year Time Capsule

At the 50th anniversary gala on May 20, 1963, PBBH President Steinert symbolically hands over the time capsule to the hospital’s youngest trustee, J. Linzee Coolidge, for safekeeping. The 11″ x 15″ metal box was later deposited in State Street Bank to wait out the decades.

In 1963, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and a parent hospital of the current incarnation, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), celebrated its 50th anniversary. One way staff marked the occasion was with a time capsule—a small box sent through time as a gift to the future celebrants of the hospital’s 100th anniversary. As they wished, the BWH Archivist, along with members of the BWH administrative staff and the trustee originally tasked with looking after the time capsule in 1963, opened it. Inside, we found a collection of objects and documents that capture their message of pride in the hospital’s achievements, and their great hopes for the future.

Boston Herald Headline Clipping from May 16. 1963. Gordon Cooper's Spaceflight.Reflecting the optimism of the new “space age”, the box included a newspaper clipping about astronaut Gordon Cooper’s May 1963 spaceflight, along with 50th anniversary celebration souvenirs saved from press articles, special scientific sessions, the opening of new facilities, award ceremonies, and alumni reunions. They also included a reel-to-reel tape recording of a hilarious satirical musical play by staff called “Through the Years.”

Plastic Administration Set from 1963. Used for the infusion of fluids into the bloodstream,Several examples of new, leading-edge medical tools being used at the Brigham were packed in, too. There was a new plastic blood bag (invented at PBBH) which had recently replaced glass containers, a plastic syringe (disposable!) which had also replaced glass, a plastic administration set, a new type of dialysis catheter, as well as a gelfoam sponge used as a hemostat.

TimeMag2A signed copy of historian David McCord’s book about the hospital’s first 50 years titled, Fabrick of Man; a copy of Time magazine with a cover featuring Surgeon-in-Chief, Francis D. Moore, MD; the 49th PBBH Annual Report and the Report of the Friends of PBBH; as well as the 50th Anniversary edition of the Brigham Bulletin, immersed us in the life and concerns of the hospital in 1963.

Plan of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital campus in 1963.One huge preoccupation of the day was merger planning. In 1963, the project to unite several local hospitals with PBBH had already been underway for many years. This dream of merger wasn’t finalized until 1975, but they left us a map of the PBBH campus as it was in their day with hopes that by ours, the combined hospitals would be reflected in an expanded, ultramodern facility. (Completed in 1980 and still growing!)

Cortone and Solumedrol. Drugs researhed at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1963.Another preoccupation was innovation. Having pioneered the field of transplantation with the world’s first successful kidney transplant in 1954, PBBH surgeons in 1963 were ready to attempt their first liver transplant. A team-based approach to breast cancer treatment and replacement parts to repair the heart also fascinated PBBH surgeons. They sent us, via time capsule, an X-ray of the first caged-ball valve implanted in a human heart. Researchers sent a Wall Street Journal article about new tests they had developed for the early detection of kidney and bladder cancer, and several drugs that they were experimenting with, including antibiotics, steroids, and hormones used for cancer therapy.

PBBH 1963 Time Capsule Letter from the Pathologist, Gustave Dammin, MD.All of these items were fascinating, but the most exciting find in the 1963 time capsule was a ribbon-tied packet of personal letters from people in 1963 to be opened by their counterparts in 2013. The Chairman of the Board, President, Director, and Chiefs of Medicine, Surgery, Radiology, Pathology, and Urology all sent missives.

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Nurse's Cap and School Graduation PinIn 1963, the Director of Nursing and of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital School of Nursing (1912–1985) was at the center of an evolution in the training of professional nurses. Along with her letter, she sent a copy of her speech accurately predicting the future of nursing education, as well as adding a PBBH nursing cap and a PBBHSoN graduation pin to the box.

Several others wrote letters too, for a total of 14 detailed glimpses into the minds and imaginations of hospital staff of 50 years ago. The reading of these letters 50 years later by the individuals to whom they were addressed was videotaped. You can listen to these or read each letter by following this URL:

Some of our favorite quotes from the letters:

  • “Automation will be abundant throughout the institution, and although solving many problems, will bring new ones with it.”
  • “…the continuing shortage of nurses…”
  • “My major problems have been securing sufficient funds to carry on our research program…”
  • “University medicine must … take a more active role in directing medicine and medical affairs outside of its four walls.”
  • “[Transplantation] should be regarded as the next great advance of human biology … I envy you the fact that fifty years later you will be able to say whether or not this dream came true.”
  • “The transition to a collegiate program of professional preparation [for nurses] will become a reality.”
  • “I prophesy the cure for cancer will not yet be found.”
  • “My dear Mr. President…”
  • “Gall stones will still exist to afford pleasure to the general surgeon.”
  • “[From] Station 21 V5 The Moon, 10 August 2013: …the Brigham [is] ready to return your reconditioned heart…I shall call you on your synophone as soon as I return. My crystal is x50279…”
  • “I sense that there is a thread of continuity that extends into the distant future, …headed in the direction of continued progress in medical science… in the teaching of medical students and the training of hospital residents, in the research laboratories, and in the care of patients.”

If you are in the neighborhood, drop in to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There is an exhibit of some of the above named time capsule items near the gift shop on the 2nd floor which will be on display throughout Blueprint,” the hospital’s celebration of significant anniversaries of its parent hospitals in 2013 and 2014.




Warren Museum bladder calculus featured on WBUR’s Radio Boston

By , February 4, 2011

Bladder Calculus, 1809, 04809, Warren Anatomical Museum, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Warren Museum bladder calculus 04809 was recently featured on WBUR’s Radio Boston.

The program toured Harvard University’s new exhibition Tangible Things and interviewed the exhibit curators Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the 300th Anniversary University Professor in Department of History and Ivan Gaskell, the Margaret S. Winthrop Curator and Senior Lecturer on History.

The large stone will be on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History from January 24 through May 29, 2011. The stone was removed post mortem by a Salem, MA surgeon from a man’s bladder in 1809. According to a historical analysis, it is composed of ammonium urate and uric acid.

The entire Radio Boston story can be found on the WBUR website.

Seventeen artifacts and specimens from the Center for the History of Medicine are on display in Tangible Things. More information on the exhibition can be found in the Center for the History of Medicine News.

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