Posts tagged: Jean-Martin Charcot

Salpetriere Hospital Records Opened to Research

Jean Martin Charcot

After nearly three years of collaborative efforts, the Center’s collection of Salpêtrière Hospital (Paris, France) records is open and available for research. We anticipate high research interest in this important new resource; within weeks of its opening, the collection was the subject of two fellowship proposals.

The collection includes .5 cubic feet of notes, lectures, case histories, and pen drawings created by neurologist and psychologist J. M. (Jean Martin) Charcot and Salpêtrière Hospital staff between 1859 and 1893. The bulk of the collection consists of 16,800 glass plate negatives, original negative enclosures, photographic indices, and a small number of prints produced by the Photographic Service of the Salpêtrière Hospital  between 1880 and 1942, the bulk of which date between 1900 and 1919. Charcot established the Photographic Service in 1878 for the purpose of patient care, the study of disease, and medical instruction. Images depict whole body images of patients and heath care workers, partial body images illustrating specific medical conditions and tissue and lesions discovered during autopsy, and wards and hospital buildings.

A finding aid provides item level description, often including diagnosis and treating physician. Images created prior to 1900 are openly available; contact the Center for information regarding access to restricted images.

Records were given to the Countway Library in 1972 when the Salpêtrière Hospital building housing Charcot’s former laboratory was demolished. The collection remained closed to research due to preservation concerns until the Weissman Preservation Center, as a part of its Mellon-funded project to improve the condition of Harvard’s photographic collections, provided the expertise and technical staff needed to assess and rehouse the glass plate negatives. Recognizing the research value of the collection, the Boston Medical Library contributed funding for re-housing supplies. Transcription of the collections’ indices was supported by generous donors to the Center’s Discovery Fund.

Discovery Fund Enables Research Access in Manuscript Collections

Negative 3049, Salpetriere Hospital records, H MS c30, August 11, 1899. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Making accessible our hidden collections is one of the most urgent challenges facing the Center. Through the Discovery Fund, the Center seeks to reduce the number of inaccessible and unprocessed collections by using financial gifts to create temporary processing support positions.

Harnessing 2010 Discovery Fund donations, the Center was able to transcribe and translate from French original index entries for approximately 16,800 glass plate negatives created at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, 1882-1944. Index entries, now in a Microsoft Access database, will increase access to this collection of international interest for which no descriptive information was available. The negatives are the product of the unprecedented use of medical imaging by revolutionary neurologist and psychologist J. M. (Jean Martin) Charcot and his disciples and are as important to the history of photography as to the history of medicine.

Discovery funds were applied to listing the papers of nutritionist D. Mark (David Mark) Hegsted (1952-1978), whose research demonstrated the effects of specific dietary fats and cholesterol on serum cholesterol levels. Hegsted, a founding member of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), among the first such departments in a medical or public health school in the world, was instrumental in the development of the federal “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Ordinarily, resource constraints make it difficult to rapidly respond to researchers’ requests for access to unprocessed collections; the Discovery fund provides the flexibility we need to shift staff to the most in-demand collections at the point they are needed for research. Discovery funds made it possible to “process on demand” reproductive health giant John Rock’s recently acquired personal papers, 1915-1981. Rock, the co-inventor of the birth control pill, was the subject of a Center symposium in March 2009, when the collection of his professional records was opened to research. His personal papers, now being listed, will be available for use shortly.

Many thanks to our Discovery Fund donors. To find out how to join them, see our website.

Charcot Collection Featured at Harvard University Library Event

The Harvard University Library held a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Weissman Preservation Center on March 18th at the Lamont and Houghton Libraries. The Center, funded by Paul M. and Harriet Weissman, provides centralized preservation services to Harvard libraries, including disaster response, environmental monitoring, education, and paper, book, and photograph conservation. The Center’s Jean-Martin Charcot collection of glass plate negatives was featured as an example of the impact of preservation on research access. Robin Kelsey, the Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography, spoke on the collection’s importance in the history of photography and culture. Jean-Martin Charcot, a physician whose work revolutionized modern neurology and psychology, practiced the clinical anatomical method, where symptoms observed in the patient are correlated with the lesions found during autopsy. The Charcot collection, more than 18,000 negatives, the bulk created between 1882 and 1915 at l’Hospital Salpetriere in Paris, France, amplify the role of observation in diagnosis. The collection has been closed to research due to its fragile condition. It is now undergoing analysis and re-housing by Weissman conservation technicians and will be opened to research at the completion of the work in July 2010. We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Weissman, Weissman staff members Brenda Bernier, Maggie Wessling, and Andrea Younfert, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for support of this photograph preservation project.

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