After a much-needed Thanksgiving break, we’re back at school for the final stretch of the semester! My break was not the most restful, as I had done extensive travelling during this time. The purpose of my travels, which were funded by my Schupf fellowship (more on that later), was to conduct some archival research for the History of Therapeutics seminar that I’m currently taking.
I started off by going to Yale in New Haven, visiting the manuscripts and archives portion of their gigantic Sterling Library. Here, a professor once taught physiology—and later history of medicine—who was a good friend and longtime correspondent of one of the key figures in the development of penicillin as a drug, which is one of the core issues that I’m looking at for my project. Next, I went to New York, saw some friends over the weekend, and immersed myself in the Columbia Health and Sciences Library archives when they opened on Monday—I was particularly happy to find a set of relevant papers and notes on lectures given by a female doctor, Hattie Alexander, at a time when authoritative voices like hers were still few and far between.
Then came the exciting and very new part of my trip: I got on a plane late at night and went to London for the remainder of break! This was a city—and a country—that I’ve never been to, so I was particularly excited. Also, London (and British culture at large) is so present in American pop culture that it felt weird, at once familiar yet strange, to be in that city. I loved it, though; coming from New York, particularly, the public transportation system in London was heavenly in its clear organization and efficiency. I spent many hours in the archives at the library in the Wellcome Center, which is an institution that also boasted a museum full of exhibits and information on the history of medicine and current medical trends as well as artifacts and collections from the trust’s original benefactor. It was, in short, a (do-not-touch and no-photographs-please) playground for anyone with an interest in medicine and leaning toward understanding history.
Beyond collecting information on hundreds of pages of archival material that I now have to organize into a coherent final paper, I also had time to make my way around the city and immerse myself in these new sights, particularly before I made my way up to the Wellcome Library every day and after I left for the night. There’s not much to say about this part, except that I drank in more new sights and sounds and smells than I did water (I have a problem with staying hydrated while travelling) and that every bit of it was incredible. And, of course, I took many photos, some of which I’ve added here.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip and wonderful learning experience—and after hearing about some of my friends’ adventures in Europe gone awry, I’m glad I didn’t lose anything important (except when a woman walking really fast on the Millennium Bridge bumped into me, sending my lens cap flying, and I watched helplessly as it rolled over the edge and into the Thames).
Returning to the subject of my funding: I’m a Schupf Scholar, there’s a few students who receive this distinction in each class year—thanks to alum Axel Schupf, we get grants to investigate questions or do more learning on our own on whatever topics interest us. In this case, I had been interested in this topic for my history seminar (antibiotic resistance and scientific development) to begin with, but I came away with a far greater appreciation for history research, as well as a sense of knowing these historical figures in science almost personally—and reading about their family lives, their dry senses of humor, their academic spats over credit and authorship have provided for me so much context in which I can think about their many achievements.