Preservation Week: Health Pamphlet Rehousing Project Moves Forward with Support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

By Yungjin Shin, Collections Care Assistant

To celebrate Preservation Week, sponsored by the ALA’s Association of Library Collections and Technical Services, we would like to highlight our work with our Health Pamphlet Collection.

One of the major preservation projects at the Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory is the Health Pamphlet Rehousing Project, which is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The Health Pamphlet Collection includes approximately 50,000 health-related pamphlets dating from the 19th to the early 20th century.

The current process involves multiple steps: pulling the pamphlet boxes from the stacks — cleaning the pamphlets and assessing them for future treatment — transferring the pamphlets to envelopes with custom fitted supports — updating the bibliographic information in the online catalog — building custom designed storage boxes — labeling the envelopes and boxes— rearranging as needed —and re-shelving to the new location.

Here is a behind-the-scenes video that shows the overall process, start to finish.

 

The project is currently scheduled to be completed in January 2018.

Preservation week

#ColorOurCollections: February 6-10, 2017

Get your crayons and colored pencils ready, we’re gearing up to #ColorOurCollections again! This year’s library social media coloring extravaganza will happen February 6th-10th. During that week, libraries, archives, special collections, and other cultural institutions around the world will share coloring sheets based on materials in their collections.  You will find these posts on social media with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections, as well as on our new website, colorourcollections.org.

Last year, more than 210 libraries and cultural institutions participated, representing 7 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand). Institutions, let’s make it even bigger this year. If you work in a library or special collection, join us in this fun initiative! Find out how to participate here.

If you can’t wait and want to sharpen those coloring skills, try your hand at one of our new coloring sheets. This illustration of 26 notable women comes from the pamphlet Famous women of the world published by the Pepsin Syrup Company, circa 1920.

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Winter/Spring 2017 Catalog: Events with a Unique Perspective

library-programming-winter-spring-2017-thumbWelcome to The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Winter/Spring 2017 cultural programming.  Today we launch a new season of events with a unique perspective on the history and culture of medicine and health, and what they mean for the future.

The upcoming season includes talks by prominent authors, historians and artists. Highlights include science writer Harriet Washington on the role of microbes in mental health (March 15), historian Lisa Rosner on the controversial history of vaccine advocacy starting in the 1700s (April 6), food journalist Sarah Lohman on garlic’s journey from a tuberculosis remedy to a food seasoning (June 5), and science writer Mary Roach on her new book GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War (June 12).

Legacies of War: Medical Innovations and Impacts,” our special 2017 event series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American entry into WWI, will explore how the experience of war has prompted medical innovation, including surgical techniques, prosthetics, ambulances, and trauma care. Speakers will also address the impact of conflict on the minds and bodies of soldiers and civilian populations, past and present. This series commences On February 21, with Prof. Margaret Humphreys (Duke University) speaking on “The Marrow of Tragedy: Disease and Diversity in Civil War Medicine.”

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To ensure the sustainability of our programs, we have added a nominal fee for our events. A number of events throughout the year remain free due to the generosity of our sponsors. Discounts continue to be available to our valued Friends of the Rare Book Room and Academy Fellows and Members, and we welcome students to attend for free.

Download the Winter/Spring 2017 programming catalog for more details. To register, click the names of events in the catalog, or visit www.NYAM.org/events.

We look forward to seeing you throughout the year.

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Event Announcement: The Roles of Physicians in 19th Century Polar Exploration

Our Friends of the Rare Book Room have traveled from Louis XIV’s Paris to early twentieth century Ellis Island.  On Wednesday, February 1, we invite you to join us for the Arctic.  In this special Friends event, Dr. Douglas Kondziolka will discuss his collection of Arctic and Antarctic polar exploration books, maps, and letters from the era of the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. Dr. Kondziolka is a member of the neurosurgery faculty at New York University as Professor and Vice-Chair for Clinical Research.

Dr. Kondziolka’s focus on the Arctic was stimulated first by his Canadian father’s tenure with the US Air Force at their Canadian base in the Arctic in the 1950s, and later by the popular historian Pierre Berton and his book “The Arctic Grail.” Dr. Kondziolka’s collection, which began in 1994, was fostered by several trips to the arctic to visit important exploration sites. The collection documents the important steps in Arctic discovery, both for a Northwest Passage to Asia, and to the North Pole itself.

Dr. Kondziolka’s collection tells the story of a cast of unique characters, and among them many physicians, who dared to venture into lands unknown.  A few of these individuals are highlighted below:

Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to travel overland to the Pacific Ocean, proving that there was no way to get there entirely by water.  His publication was received by Thomas Jefferson, who spurred him to send Lewis and Clark to “solve the American West.”

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Elisha Kent Kane
A few decades later, the Americans joined in the search for the North Pole. A bored physician, Elisha Kent Kane, was the first successful American polar explorer. His book became the #2 best seller during the Civil War, just behind The Bible.

Charles Francis Hall
Spurred by Kane’s adventures, a Cincinnati newspaperman, Charles Francis Hall, ventured up to the Arctic.  He was the first to go native, and brought Inuit back to New York to rave reviews. On his last voyage, despite being able to reach far up the coast of Greenland, his men mutinied and poisoned him, preferring to make their way back home.

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We hope you will join us on February 1 for this special event. Click here to register.

Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to come at 6:00pm to look at selected books with the speaker in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room prior to the talk. This event is part of our series for Friends. To join the Friends please click here.

Become a Friend of the Rare Book Room

Auld Lang Syne, traditionally played at the start of a new year, begins with a question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”  The song that follows is generally thought to be a call to remember long-standing friendships.

As we begin 2017, please consider joining the Friends of the Rare Book Room. Whether you have come to the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room to use some of our 550,000 books and manuscripts, have stopped by for a tour or speaker event, or enjoy our digital offerings, we consider you part of the New York Academy of Medicine Library community.

Friends’ support ensures the ongoing vitality of the Library and its collections. Friends help underwrite the Library’s public programs and outreach activities; the acquisition, conservation, and cataloging of remarkable historical materials; and digitization of our key Library treasures.

As thanks for being a Friend, you will be entitled to discounted prices to special lectures, programs, excursions, and receptions, including private viewings of the collections. Below are a few of the many exciting events we have planned in 2017.

1/11:      Private tour of the Morgan Library Literary Collections

Open to all Friends of the Rare Book Room members; advance registration required.  Just a few spaces left so act quickly!

A special behind-the-scenes exclusive visit to Morgan Library & Museum for a guided tour of the museum’s literary collection and meeting with John Bidwell, Curator of Printed Books and Bindings.

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1/28:      “How a Colonial Family Read: The Winthrops and Their Books”

Speaker: Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of European History, Princeton University

When John Winthrop and his family left England for Massachusetts, they brought books, in quantity, and they went on buying more. This lecture will use evidence in the Winthrops’ copies of their books to show how four generations of male and female Winthrops read, and track the story of an early American family over time.

2/1:        “The Role of Physicians in 19th Century Polar Exploration”

Speaker: Douglas Kondziolka, NYU Vice-Chair for Clinical Research

Douglas Kondziolka collects arctic and antarctic polar exploration materials; this talk will focus on the story of the many physicians, who dared to venture into lands unknown.

3/30:      “Anomaly and Imagination”

Speaker: Rosamond Purcell, artist and photographer

Acclaimed photographer Purcell has been interested in fantastical imagery from early modern books for much of her career. Descriptions and images of conjoined twins, one-eyed giant cyclops, and dog-headed cannibals appear in manuscripts and books. In medical collections, their biological counterparts are preserved as effigies in wax and as skeletons of conjoined twins, giants and dwarfs. This talk will cover ideas about hybrid beings, the illusion of the monstrous and the fluidity of natural forms.

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4/13:      The Annual Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture: “Art in the Service of Medical Education”

Speaker: Rose Holz, historian of medicine and sexuality at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where she serves as the Associate Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program and Director of Humanities in Medicine.

Professor Rose Holz examines the life of Dr. Robert L. Dickinson, gynecologist, investigating the hugely influential Birth Series sculptures he created in 1939 with fellow artist Abram Belskie. The Birth Series both shaped modern gynecological education for aspiring practitioners and educated lay individuals in matters of pregnancy and reproduction and gave rise to new understandings of pregnancy radically different from those that held sway in the 1800s.

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For more details about Friends programs throughout the year contact frbr@nyam.org.

Happy New Year from the New York Academy of Medicine Library!

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Today is #GivingTuesday

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two whirlwind days for getting deals, #GivingTuesday is a day for giving back.  Through this campaign, millions of people have come together to support and champion the organizations and causes they value. On this day, please consider donating to the New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Open to the public since 1878, the library is home to a collection that spans 12 centuries of learning.  It is a place where world-renowned historians and students alike come to learn, to be inspired, and to form the foundation of knowledge that opens the door to a future discovery.  With your generous contribution, we can foster this discovery for years to come.

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As we look to the future, please enjoy this look back at the past year through the eyes of our library staff.

“From Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, the African American physician leading the Mississippi Health Project during the Great Depression; Mexican physicians marching on the street for reform in the 1960s; to the doctors and nurses at the Lincoln Hospital creating a model for medical activism in the 1970s; this year’s “Changemakers” series was an important reminder that creating social and political change requires energy, engagement, and commitment, at any time in history.”  –Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

archivespanel“On October 26th, the Academy Library convened  ‘Archives, Advocacy and Change:  Tales from Four New York City Collections.’  I moderated a lively conversation with all-star panelists Jenna Freedman (Barnard College), Steven Fullwood (In the Life Archive), Timothy Johnson (Tamiment Library, New York University) and Rich Wandel (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center).  The discussion hit on a lot of fascinating issues, including how archivists shape the historical record with the selection and acquisition choices they make, issues of privilege, and access for communities.”  –Anne Garner, Curator

edwardjenner“I was excited to learn in 2016 that the Library holds autograph letters from Edward Jenner in which he discusses the smallpox vaccine that he helped pioneer. These fascinating letters are available to the public for consultation. They demonstrate how strongly Jenner believed that inoculation with cowpox would protect people from the scourge of smallpox.”  –Rebecca Filner, Head of Cataloging

“As a new staff member, I really enjoyed the Rare Book Room tour that Arlene Shaner gave me during my first few weeks at the Academy. I got to see some absolutely incredible items and learned so much about the building’s history. As a little aside, these tours are free and open to the public! They happen from 12-1 on the first Monday of each month.”  –Audrey Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Assistant

pendleton_bugsandnuts_1924_cover_watermark“Most of my works has a lot to do with satisfaction—satisfactions from cleaning dusted books, from placing crumbled health pamphlets into clean, acid-free envelopes, from making fitted enclosures for damaged books, from putting torn pieces together, and so much more. But all of these satisfactions is ultimately coming from that I’m contributing in preservation of the library materials to be more accessible and usable for the future! One of the most memorable item I worked through in Health Pamphlet Rehousing Project this year is this “Bugs and Nuts” pamphlet by Andrew Lenis Pendleton, with so many absurd and eerie illustrations.”  –Yungjin Shin, Collections Care Assistant

 

color-our-collections“A recent highlight for me would be our first #ColorOurCollections week, held February 1-5, 2016. Over 200 libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world participated by creating collections-based coloring sheets and sharing them freely online. It was exciting to connect with other institutions and new followers, and it was especially rewarding to share our collection and see people engage with it in new and creative ways. I can’t wait for the next #ColorOurCollections, coming up on February 6-10, 2017!”  –Rebecca Pou, Archivist

 

 

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“One thing I particularly enjoyed this year was developing an online store featuring images from our collections on a variety of products. It allowed me to delve into and share the collections in a new and often very quirky ways. A 1910 health pamphlet on a beer koozie, a 17th century microscopic slice of rock as your party clutch, a poster of vintage stethoscopes to adorn your walls, a refrigerator magnet with a an octopus, or beautifully calligraphic roman numerals from a 9th century Roman cookbook decorating a bookmark – these truly breathe new life into elements of the collection.”  –Emily Miranker, Team Administrator/Project Coordinator

“In sitting down to go through the William J. Morton Papers in connection with my residency as The Helfand Fellow, I was just stunned to find a 7-in thick stack of newspaper cuttings curated by Morton himself and preserved in their original order. The subject of my research is the history of the X-ray, and the difficulty is dealing with the voluminous print matter that appeared almost instantly. Yet Morton essentially curated some of that for me, by clipping articles that reflected his view of what was relevant to the New York metropolitan area and the networks of physicians and scientists in which he traveled. The collection is a gift for the historian, not just for its content, but because of its window into what one prominent NYC physician deemed worth noting about X-ray fever.”  –Daniel Goldberg, Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

columbia-dermatology“Dr. Paul Schneiderman brought his Columbia dermatology residents to visit the rare book room on August 26th so that we could explore the history of dermatology. Looking at highlights from the dermatology collection from the 16th through the 20th centuries gave the residents a chance to think about the many ways in which their specialty has changed over time, especially since dermatology relies so heavily on visual representation. We looked at hand colored engravings, chromolithographs, photographs and stereoscopic images and the residents and their mentor engaged in lively debates about whether the descriptions and images matched with current information about some of the diseases that were shown. Not only did the residents have the opportunity to see these wonderful materials, but I had the pleasure of learning more about how to interpret the images from them.”  –Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Discover Grey Literature: Hidden Health and Science Resources

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

This fall, the Academy will host the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature to reveal one of the most valuable hidden resources for students, health professionals, and researchers. This post was originally posted on The New York Academy of Medicine‘s blog, Urban Health Matters.

Where can anyone get access to more than 20,000 expert health and science resources for free? The Grey Literature Report—GreyLit for short. A treasured resource among librarians since 1999, the GreyLit Report also offers students, health sciences researchers and professionals a one-stop-shop for incredibly difficult to find information. Once a quarterly publication, the GreyLit Report became so popular by 2006 that the Academy doubled the number of issues published each year.

greylitscreenshotWhy Grey?

The very title of the report is a clue to why it’s such a valuable tool. The carefully curated resources it provides often exist in a “grey” area between widely distributed peer-reviewed journals and the proprietary research that does not make it into the public sphere.

Grey literature is notoriously hard to find, often buried on the websites of any number of organizations or in the stacks of medical and science libraries. By publishing a categorized, bi-monthly compendium of the top resources in the field, the GreyLit Report does the detective work for thousands of overwhelmed students, scientists and academics that often leads them to the critical information they need to complete their work.

One popular document included in the report, for example, was A closer look at the implementation of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages: a civil society perspective, published by the government of Barbados. Normally, this study would not land on the desks of American researchers, even those studying nutrition policy. It was nearly impossible to find on Google, prior to its mention in the August 2016 GreyLit newsletter, yet it offers a valuable analysis of the policy implications of attempting to regulate the consumption of unhealthy foods.

I discovered GreyLit long before I came to the Academy to become the editor of the report. In my previous life at AARP, as editor of the AgeLine Database, the premier literature database on aging research, the GreyLit Report became one of my most valuable sources of publications on aging.

I could just glance at the report and find new resources. It also became a way for AARP’s research to be disseminated to a broader audience, as it sometimes included research from other divisions.

Now, 17 years after it was created, the Academy’s GreyLit Report is still the only publication of its type in the United States. This year, as members of GreyNet International, an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of grey literature, the Academy will be hosting the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature on Nov 28th and 29th, 2016. This year’s topic is Leveraging Diversity because grey literature can play a pivotal role in the search for solutions to urban health challenges here in New York and around the world.

That’s also why we have named the week of Nov 28 as the 1st International Grey Literature Week. We will be holding workshops and events along with the conference in celebration of grey literature. If you are interested in finding the best, hidden resources in your field, join us this November and discover GreyLit!

Cool Products for Curious Minds

Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

Here at the Library our highest priority and our favorite thing to do are one and the same: share the collection. We’re constantly thinking up new ways to do this and we’re thrilled to announce the latest: we’ve launched an online shop with over 3,000 products featuring images from our collections. If you’ve ever been entranced by a gorgeous picture featured on the blog, something we’ve posted on our Instagram feed, or an item seen during an in-person visit to the library, our store is for you! Or if you need a truly unique treat for someone in your life who’s just impossible to find the perfect gift for; we’ve got you covered.

The items you’ll find in our shop range from accessories to home goods to fine art. The products mirror the diversity of our collections from medicine, food, and cookery, to New York City history, botany, and much more. And, best of all, the proceeds from shop sales support preservation of the collections, outreach and programming.

This group of musicians come from an 18th century work by Jacques Gamelin –possibly my favorite memento mori in the collection.

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Spiral notebook, featuring the musicians of Jacques Gamelin’s Noveau recueil d’ostéologie, 1779.

As you browse the items, you’ll find bibliographic and historical information about the featured image in the product description. And if you’re not interested in a notebook per se, there’ll be a link to see the image on other products.

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In the Academy’s online shop, you can find other product options using a particular image from the collections.  Here, headphones, a lamp and a t-shirt, to name just a few.

The subjects of our images were frequently the inspiration for the products on which they feature. Even the most familiar picture gets some new life breathed into it as they take on new forms.

Below, we draw from a confectioner’s 1907 cookery manual, a tempting selection of pretzels and breads from Prague, and a detail of condiment bottles from Lyman Phillips’ helpful book for the solo gentleman A Bachelor’s Cupboard, and the best Benjamin Franklin look-a-like I’ve ever seen on a 1911 pamphlet from our Margaret Barclay Wilson cookery collection.

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Paper plates from the Academy shop, with image, “Types of Dessert Fancies” from John Kirkland’s The modern baker, confectioner, and caterer…, 1907.

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Apron from the Academy shop, using an image from Emil Braun’s 1903 Baker’s Book.

We’re also loving kitchen accessories from our Botanicals collection:

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Clove serving tray from the Academy shop, featuring an image from Robert Bentley’s Medicinal Plants, 1880. 

In case you’re starting to think about holiday cards or stocking stuffers for later this season, consider any of these:

Enjoy seeing our collection from these new angles. Don’t forget that we are open to readers by appointment four days a week, and for those just wanting to visit, we have lunchtime tours on the first Monday of the month .

We will be constantly adding new products to the store, if you’d like to see your favorite image on a product, feel free to get in touch and we will see what we can do!

Explore the Academy Library Timeline

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital 

The New York Academy of Medicine Library began in 1847 with the intention of serving the Academy fellows, but in 1878, after the collection had expanded to include over 6,000 volumes, Academy President Samuel Purple and the Council voted to open the Library to the public.  It continues to serve both the Academy fellows and the general public, providing an unprecedented level of access to a private medical collection.  Today, the Academy Library is one of the most significant historical libraries in the history of medicine and public health in the world.

The Academy Library’s history spans almost 170 years and a glimpse into this history is documented in this interactive timeline. While the timeline does not represent everything that has occurred in the Library, notable milestones can be seen here. The story starts with the founding of the Library on January 13,1847, with a gift from Isaac Wood of Martyn Payne’s Medical and Physiological Commentaries and continues forward to the recent renovation and naming of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

 

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Figure 1:  The New York Academy of Medicine Library Timeline (Created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab Timeline JS).

 

Timeline Highlights


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New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.

 

 

 

Academy’s First Permanent Home: In 1875, the Academy purchased and moved into its first permanent home at 12 west 31st Street. This image of the Academy’s first building will take you back to a different time.

 

 

 

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New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.

 

 

 

 

Academy’s Current Home: In 1926, the Academy moved to its current location on 103rd Street and 5th Avenue. The architectural firm York & Sawyer designed the building.  A 1932 expansion added three new floors on the northeast side of the original structure above the existing floors.  Today, you can visit the Academy at this location and explore the historic building.

 

 

 

 

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Apicius’ de re culinaria, 830 A.D. 

 

 

Cookery Collection: In 1929, Margaret Barclay Wilson gave the Academy her collection of books on food and cookery, which includes a 9th-century manuscript (De re culinaria) attributed to Apicius, and sometimes referred to as the oldest cookbook in the West.

 

 

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George Washington’s lower denture, 1789.

 

 

George Washington’s Teeth:  Yes, that’s right!  In the spring of 1937, the descendants of John Greenwood gave the Academy the lower denture created by New York dentist John Greenwood for Washington in 1789. The denture is just one of the artifacts that the Library owns.

 

 

 

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Librarians Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, both in The Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine., vol. 50, no. 10, 1974.

 

 

Honored Librarians: In 1974, the Academy honored Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, long-time librarians for their contributions to the Library.

 

 

 

 

There are many more highlights in the timeline so click through and enjoy.

The Tech


The Academy Library timeline was created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab open-source timeline tool called TimelineJS. The tool was released under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), making it possible for anyone to create timelines to embed and share publicly.

TimelineJS is an easy tool to create a timeline with just a few steps. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a timeline:

Content: Have content ready prior to creating

It’s important to have content ready prior to creating the timeline.  For the Academy Library timeline, there was already a text version of the timeline that could be used to create the interactive timeline. Together Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian and I edited, updated and added images to the timeline. Starting with some content allowed us to devote time to enhancing the timeline by finding and adding associated images.

Media:  Make media publicly available

It is important that the media resources used in the timeline are publicly available.  TimelineJS uses URLs to access and display the media files (images, videos, maps, Wikipedia entries, Twitter, etc.). Thus, items behind firewalls or logins will not be accessible to the public. Make sure to upload images to a publicly available server and use that URL for the timeline.

Google Sheets: Add all content and links into spreadsheet and publish

Google Sheets is the data source for the timeline and this means that all data for the timeline is managed in Google Sheets. Once the Google Sheets file is published, the URL is used by TimelineJS to create the timeline, link to the timeline and embed code for websites.

If you’re familiar with Google Sheets or have used any spreadsheet program, then you know the process of adding content to the spreadsheet. If you haven’t used any spreadsheet program before, think of Google Sheets as a table with multiple columns and rows where you’ll input data for the timeline.

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Figure 2:  TimelineJS Google Sheets Template

To get started, the TimelineJS template and directions provide a good guide to the parameters of the timeline with each row representing a screen and each column a component of that screen. For example, the date structures are very flexible and the timeline can include a full date and time or just a year. Also, in the background column, adding a hex number for color can change the background color or including a link to image will show a background image.

 

Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee: Civil Rights Pioneer

Today’s guest post is written by the Honorable Diane Kiesel, an acting justice of the New York State Supreme Court. She is the author of She Can Bring us Home (2015), a biography of Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee. On Wednesday, September 21st at 6pm, Kiesel will give a lecture, “Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee:  Civil Rights Pioneer.” There is no charge, but please register in advance here.   

Today, when social security and Medicare address the needs of the elderly, health care programs are in place to take care of the sick and a myriad of government agencies exist to help the poor, it is hard to imagine a time when the hungry, the elderly, the sick and the poverty stricken – particularly if they were people of color – were largely forgotten.

Diane Kiesel's She Can Bring Us Home, a biography of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee.

Diane Kiesel’s She Can Bring Us Home, a biography of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee.

Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee (1898-1980), was a well-known African American physician in her day who focused on the health needs of the destitute early in the 20th century, providing a private safety net where none was yet put in place by the government. For seven summers during the Great Depression, Dr. Ferebee, who came from privilege and whose Washington, D.C. medical practice catered to the upper class of her race, led what came to be known as the Mississippi Health Project.  She and a team of all-volunteer doctors, nurses, schoolteachers and social workers traveled to the Mississippi Delta to bring health care to tenant farmers and sharecroppers. The women who made up the health project were graduates of some of the nation’s finest historic black colleges and members of the elite Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. They left their comfortable homes to drive thousands of miles of unpaved roads through the Deep South to swelter in the cotton fields for their cause.

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Photo of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, ca. 1958. Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington D.C.

It was a daunting task. Their sharecropper patients earned about $50 a year; they worked the most fertile ground on earth but their diets contained almost no fruits or vegetables because the landowners refused to let them use valuable cotton acreage for gardens. They suffered from diseases that had not, and should not, have been seen in the United States since the 19th century – even though it was 1935. Pellagra and rickets were common, as were outbreaks of smallpox. Tuberculosis deaths were rampant. Thirty percent of the black men in the region suffered from untreated syphilis. Dr. Ferebee’s health team not only had to face disease, but ignorance. Some mothers had no idea how old their own children were. They thought if they put tea bags on their children’s eyes, they would cure their colds and feared cutting their hair lest their children be unable to speak.  Some of them had never seen a physician and others had never used a toothbrush.

In the Jim Crow South, Dr. Ferebee’s motives were suspect – some plantation owners feared she was a Communist union organizer or civil rights agitator. But she persevered, and before World War II gasoline and rubber rationing helped put an end to the project, she and her team provided inoculations, medical and dental care as well as nutrition and hygiene lessons to 15,000 of the poorest of the poor. To this day the United States Public Health Service calls it the best volunteer health effort in history.

Ferebee Scrapbook, Box 183-30.

Dorothy and her medical team stuck in the mud in Mississippi. Photo Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington D.C.  From the Ferebee Scrapbook, Box 183-30.

The Mississippi Health Project propelled Dorothy Ferebee into the national spotlight. She became president of Alpha Kappa Alpha and followed the iconic Mary McLeod Bethune as the leader of the National Council of Negro Women. In that role she met with presidents and testified before Congress on major civil rights issues. She became a consultant to the State Department where she traveled to Third World countries to bring best health care practices to emerging nations.

Fifty years after the Mississippi Health Project ended one of the participants described it as the inspiration for the next generation of civil rights activists who participated in Freedom Summer and the voting rights struggles of the early 1960s.

Join us to learn more about Dr. Ferebee, this Wednesday night, at The New York Academy of Medicine (103rd St. and Fifth Avenue) for a lecture and book signing (books will be available for purchase on site). Register here; we look forward to seeing you!