Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Former Duke University Librarian Nominated To Be Archivist of the United States

On July 28, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated David Ferriero to be the next Archivist of the United States. As Archivist, Mr. Ferriero would lead the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which is the official United States repository for government documents and records. Mr. Ferriero is currently Director of the New York Public Library, and prior to that served as University Librarian at Duke University. Further details are available from the White House blog.

NARA was established in 1934 and is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary; a photo gallery of its history as an institution is available online. Among the many millions of documents that it preserves are the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution of the United States; and the Bill of Rights. A sense of the scope of other holdings can be had from the online subject index. Although its holdings are vast, only an estimated 1-3% of government records are held by NARA, and of these records, only a fraction is available in electronic form.

The picture above shows President Herbert Hoover on February 20, 1933 at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the National Archives Building. The ceremony was accelerated to ensure that Hoover, who had just two weeks remaining in his term, would have his name on the cornerstone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NIH and Wikipedia To Collaborate on Health Information

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wikimedia Foundation have entered into a collaboration to improve the quality of health and scientific information in Wikipedia, the heavily-used online encyclopedia. On July 16, 2009, a Wikipedia Academy was held at the NIH's Bethesda campus to begin a dialogue about how to improve public knowledge about health and science. As Frank Schulenburg, head of public outreach for the Wikimedia Foundation, noted in the press releases of both NIH and the Wikipedia Foundation:
Wikipedia Academies are public outreach events, usually lasting one or two days, aimed at engaging academics and other subject-matter experts who are not familiar with wiki culture or online communities. In presentations and workshops, experienced Wikipedia authors teach the participants how to contribute to Wikipedia and orient the audience to Wikipedia’s structures and community policies.
John Burklow, NIH director for communications and public liaison, also observed:
NIH works to ensure that the information it provides on science and health is of the highest quality and reaches the widest audience. We look forward to this opportunity to collaborate with the Wikimedia Foundation and participate in a resource that is used by millions of people around the world.
Wikipedia is a rapidly growing free resource that presently contains over 13 million articles in over 250 languages. Average page views per hour total more than 14 million. One recent example of the tremendous popularity of Wikipedia for health information is the Wikipedia article on the 2009 flu pandemic. It originated on April 24, 2009 as a brief article of about 200 words, but has subsequently grown to over 20 printed pages of information and data. Flu-related articles garnered about 16,000 hits on April 23 but a week later approached 3 million hits (see the Wikimedia blog for further information).

The use of Wikipedia as an source of online health information was examined in an article entitled "Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter?" published by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The authors, both Wikipedia contributors, concluded that "Wikipedia ranked among the first ten results in 71–85% of search engines and keywords tested," and that "Wikipedia surpassed MedlinePlus and NHS Direct Online (except for queries from the latter on Google UK), and ranked higher with quality articles."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Microforms at the Health Sciences Library Can Now Be Digitized

The UNC Health Sciences Library has recently upgraded its microform reader to permit the easy digitization of both microfilm and microfiche. Located in the Audiovisual / Microforms section in the basement of the library, the new equipment (at right) can quickly create high-resolution scans of any microform document (see image below). Digitized files can be copied to flash drives, CDs, or emailed. The new digital option replaces the previous microform printer, and there is no charge for scanning.

HSL holds significant microform collections, including Early American Medical Imprints, 1668-1820, a set of 1,680 important titles (click here to browse) in the history of medicine that was acquired by Special Collections. The collection, which includes books, pamphlets, theses, and broadsides, is based on the 1961 bibliography by Robert B. Austin, and contains most but not all of the works therein. In addition, a number of periodical titles have been included that were selected from Myrl Ebert's article, "The Rise and Development of the American Medical Periodical, 1797-1850," published in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 40:243-76, July 1952.

This article was also the title of Ms. Ebert's master's thesis at Columbia University, and she become the librarian for UNC's Division of Health Affairs Library in 1952. Ms. Ebert served in this capacity until 1976, and further information about her tenure can be found in an online exhibition; a brief audio clip is also available online.

Other microform collections at HSL include:

:: History of Nursing: The Adelaide Nutting Historical Nursing Collection [browse titles]
Includes more than 1400 monographs and documents concerning the history of nursing, medicine and hospitals, from the 15th through the early 20th centuries; publication dates range from 1603 to 1937, with the bulk having been issued in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

See also nine letters in HSL Special Collections that have been digitized and made available online.

Contains 85 titles covering the entire spectrum of pharmaceutical literature, including laws, lectures, textbooks, drug and equipment catalogues, formula books, and botanical and herbal materials.

:: UNC Theses and Dissertations [browse titles on microfiche]

Theses and dissertations by UNC students are available in multiple formats, including bound volumes, microforms, and electronic files. A guide to researching UNC and other theses and dissertations is available online; information on those found in the Health Sciences Library is available here.

Since 2006, the majority of theses and dissertations at UNC have been published electronically, and are accessible online. In addition to being searchable by title, author, and keywords, these texts are also browseable by school or department, discipline, and faculty advisor.

Pictured below is a broadside from the Early American Medical Imprints, 1668-1820 microfilm collection (Austin 755). Entitled "Progess of Vaccination in America," it lists the number vaccinated and the number of tests for small-pox by state between 1802 and 1815. A manuscript note states: "February 1816, Plymouth, Mass."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Man on the Moon -- Part II

The University of North Carolina played a very significant role in NASA's space program, with astronauts from several space programs receiving training at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. A history of this involvement is available on the Morehead web site. As noted on the site:

Between 1959 and 1975, nearly every astronaut who participated in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs trained at Morehead. While the need for such training ended in 1975 as computer navigation became more reliable, long-time Planetarium Director Tony Jenzano could once claim that, “Carolina is the only university in the country, in fact the world, that can claim all the astronauts as alumni.”
A full list of the astronauts who trained at Morehead is also available online. Among the many notables are Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, as well as Dr. William Thorton, who was born in Faison, NC in 1929 and was later a graduate of the UNC School of Medicine. Thorton flew on space shuttle missions and conducted many physiological investigations, as well as holding over 35 patents, including one for the first real-time EKG computer analysis. Details on Thorton's career are available on the NASA web site.

There are a number of other Carolinians who have a NASA connection, including Charles Duke, who was born in Charlotte, NC in 1935 and was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 16, and Dr. Tom Marshburn, a Statesville, NC native and medical graduate of Wake Forest University, who made three spacewalks on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of Armstrong's moon walk.

See also: The Man on the Moon and Doctor Bills.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Man on the Moon and Doctor Bills

July 20, 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the momentous occasion of humans first walking on the moon. Upon setting foot on lunar soil, Neil Armstrong uttered, with a slight glitch (either technical or grammatical), the immortal words: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

Of course, the Sixties in America were an especially tumultuous period of social protest by many constituencies, so it is not too surprising that the moon landing itself was also the subject of criticism. Indeed, no less a figure than the highly accomplished space scientist Dr. James Van Allen [1914-2006] of the University of Iowa objected throughout his career to the vast resources that were expended on manned space flight as opposed to other more economical and efficient means of exploration and research.

On the cultural front, poet, musician, and activist Gil Scott-Heron in 1970 composed and recorded the song, "Whitey on the Moon," which contrasts the poverty and medical expenses of the song's protagonist to the fact that astronauts are now going to the moon. The lyrics raise poignant questions about how society allocates limited resources to fundamental needs such as health care. And in what is perhaps a reference to the air mail stamp that was issued in 1969 to commemorate the moon landing (pictured above), the song concludes: "I think I'll send these doctor bills, airmail special (to Whitey on the moon)." Various versions of this song, as well as Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" are available on YouTube.

The last man on the moon (and all twelve NASA astronauts that walked on the moon were male--and white) was Eugene Cernan, who commanded the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. His parting words as the lunar module left the celestial body closest to Earth were: "We leave as we came and, god willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind."

See also: Man on the Moon -- Part II.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Carolina Curator Cited on List of "100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs"

The Carolina Curator blog was recently cited as one of "100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs" by While such compilations are necessarily a somewhat subjective exercise, there are nonetheless many blogs mentioned that are worth paying attention to. Categories include Resources & Advice, Curators & Staff, Art, Children & Education, History & Culture, Science, and Miscellaneous.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

UNC Alumnus Dr. Francis Collins Nominated to Head the National Institutes of Health

Dr. Francis S. Collins, a 1977 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, was nominated on July 8, 2009 by President Barack Obama to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The White House press release is available online. Collins is a renowned physician and geneticist, who led the Human Genome Project while serving as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993 to 2008.

On June 26, 2000, President Bill Clinton presided over a ceremony at which Dr. Collins and Dr. Craig Venter, the founder of Celera Genomics, a commercial concern that led a parallel gene-mapping effort, announced a draft of the human genome.

The NIH is comprised of 27 institutes and centers and is the primary federal agency supporting medical research. With an annual budget approaching $30 billion, the NIH funds almost 50,000 competitive grant projects led by over 325,000 researchers in its own laboratories and across the United States and the world.

The NIH traces its origins back to the one-room Hygienic Laboratory established by Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun in 1887 in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, New York. Dr. Kinyoun had trained under the great German bacteriologist Robert Koch, and used his Zeiss microscope to identify the cholera bacillus cultivated from patients, a technique which allowed the confirmation of clinical diagnoses.

Dr. Milton Rosenau served as the second director of the Hygienic Laboratory from 1899 to 1909, when he joined Harvard Medical School. In 1936, Rosenau became Director of the Division of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and in 1939 he became Dean of UNC's School of Public Health. More information on Dr. Rosenau is available in an online exhibition at the UNC Health Sciences Library. Also available online are a finding aid to his papers and a research guide to public health at UNC.

For more information on the history of the NIH, see the following sections of the NIH web site:

Directors -- Legislative Chronology -- Chronology of Events -- Photo Gallery -- Office of NIH History -- Oral Histories -- Archives -- Online Exhibits -- Stetten Museum of Medical Research -- National Library of Medicine.

Also of interest is the Office of the Public Health Service Historian.

Pictured below is a Public Health Service laboratory with microscopes and glassware, circa 1899 (top). Dr. Ida A. Bengston is also pictured; a bacteriologist, she became in 1916 the first woman to be hired for the professional staff at the Public Health Service Hygienic Laboratory. Dr. Bengston researched the development of vaccines for spotted fever. Both images are from the NIH Photo Gallery.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dr. Benson Wilcox: Surgeon, Scholar, and Benefactor

Dr. Benson Wilcox, a long-time friend and supporter of the UNC Health Sciences Library, and in particular, its Special Collections, is now featured in a donor profile on the library's web site. A North Carolina native and UNC alumnus, Dr. Wilcox is an avid bibliophile who over the years has donated over 1,400 volumes to the library as well as established an endowment fund for the acquisition of additional works for the collections. He is also Professor of Surgery and Emeritus Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the UNC School of Medicine and the author and editor of several books himself, including the Surgical Anatomy of the Heart, which has been translated into Japanese and Chinese.

The oldest book that Dr. Wilcox has donated to the library's collections is a 1526 edition of the Works of Hippocrates, and one of the most recent titles acquired through his endowment fund is Thomas Percival's seminal work, Medical Ethics; or, A Code of Institutes and Precepts, Adapted to the Professional Conduct of Physicians and Surgeons, published in 1803. Another endowment purchase, a papier-mâché heart designed by Dr. Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux (1797-1880) and fabricated circa 1870, was described in this blog's Valentine's greetings earlier this year.

Dr. Wilcox has also been honored by fellow UNC alumnus R.B. Fitch, who has created a trust that will ultimately endow the Benson R. Wilcox Distinguished Professorship in Cardiothoracic Surgery. Details of the gift are available on the Department of Surgery's web site and in the UNC Medical Bulletin (inside front cover, Spring 2009). This issue of the Bulletin, on pages 2-7, also contains an article entitled, "An Affair of the Heart . . . and Lungs: Twenty Years of Heart and Lung Transplant at UNC Hospitals," which recounts the remarkable and rapid growth of UNC's heart-lung transplant program. In 1988, Dr. Wilcox recruited Dr. Michael Mill, the present Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, to help establish the program.

Depicted below are the title pages from the Works of Hippocrates (1526) and Percival's Medical Ethics (1803), which are housed in HSL Special Collections as part of the Wilcox Collection.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jack London's Cause of Death

Jack London [1876-1916], the canonical American author of such well-known works as The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, and many others, died on November 22, 1916. Only forty at the time of his demise, the cause of his death was officially ascribed to "uraemia following renal colic." Two physicians at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine explore this assessment in a recent article, Jack London's "Chronic Interstitial Nephritis": A Historical Differential Diagnosis, published in the UNC Medical Bulletin (Spring 2009, pp. 18-21).*

Drs. Andrew S. Bomback and Philip J. Klemmer draw on London's own writings and other historical sources to argue that mercury toxicity is likely to have been the real culprit. London documents in The Cruise of the Snark, the chronicle of his 1907-8 South Pacific voyage, that he treated himself with corrosive sublimate, or mercuric chloride, for a possible case of yaws. He had also treated himself earlier with mercury for gonorrhea, and Bomback and Klemmer conclude in a fascinating analysis that the long-term effects of these remedies best explain many of the symptoms that London experienced--and ultimately, the failure of his kidneys.

The cottage pictured above is located on a ranch near Glen Allen, California, where London lived for a number years, and died in 1916. It is now part of the Jack London State Historic Park.

* Recent (and some early) issues of the UNC Medical Bulletin are now available online.