Simmons Intern Processes the Elinor Kamath Papers

By , June 18, 2018
Charlotte Lellman, Simmons Processing Intern (Spring 2018). Charlotte processed the Elinor Kamath papers.

Charlotte Lellman, Simmons Processing Intern (Spring 2018). Charlotte processed the Elinor Kamath papers.

This is a guest post from our latest Simmons College intern, Charlotte Lellman, who recently processed the Elinor Kamath papers.

Over the past four months, my last semester as a student at Simmons School of Library and Information Science, I had the opportunity to intern at the Center for the History of

Medicine. During my time at the Center, I processed the Elinor Kamath papers under the supervision of Amber LaFountain. When I arrived, not much was known about Kamath or her records, but as I practiced my classroom knowledge on real records, I also got to know more about Kamath’s life and work.

Elinor Kamath (1915-1992) was a researcher at Stanford Medical School’s Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, and her major research focus was the events known as the “thalidomide crisis” or “thalidomide disaster.” The thalidomide crisis began in the 1950s and 1960s, when pregnant women with symptoms of morning sickness were treated with thalidomide. Many of these women gave birth to children with significant congenital conditions, such as absence of arms or legs. The people who had congenital conditions from thalidomide grew up to call themselves “thalidomiders,” and many continue advocacy for compensation and justice from pharmaceutical companies, particularly in countries outside the United States, such as Canada and England. In addition to learning a lot about the tragic injustices of the thalidomide crisis, I learned a lot about Kamath from studying the records she left. I discovered scraps of handwritten poetry written to her female colleagues in a male-dominated workplace; I discovered her tidy budgeting records, a necessity for reimbursement in the paper-based era; and I saw how her drive to document the thalidomide crisis forced her to self-advocate for research funding, which was often unstable.

Kamath’s records were my opportunity to practice each step of archival processing: surveying, refoldering, box listing, preservation photocopying, describing, and cataloging the collection. Throughout the process, I benefitted from the Center’s efficient and well-established protocols and templates, as well as the staff’s archival experience.

The Center for the History of Medicine is now pleased to announce the opening of the Elinor Kamath papers, 1838-1987 (inclusive), 1956-1984 (bulk). The papers, 1838-1987 (inclusive), 1956-1984 (bulk), were generated through Kamath’s many years of studying the events known as the “thalidomide crisis” or “thalidomide disaster.” Kamath’s research included correspondence with Widukind Lenz and William McBride, two doctors who were the first to recognize the connection between thalidomide and congenital conditions, as well as many other doctors, researchers, and pharmaceutical businesspeople. The papers represent Kamath’s research on legal cases in which a thalidomider or a family member brought litigation against a pharmaceutical company that distributed a thalidomide drug. The collection also includes papers from Kamath’s work as a journalist and translator, and a manuscript draft of Kamath’s unpublished book, Echo of Silence: The Causes and Consequences of the Thalidomide Disaster.

Processing a manuscript collection at the Center for the History of Medicine gave me a context in which to consider the implications of my archival decisions. With Amber, I discussed questions of terminology, provenance, arrangement, all of which were significant to how researchers will use and understand the Elinor Kamath papers.

The finding aid for the Kamath papers can be found here.

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

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