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