by Sarah Halter
Despite the ongoing pandemic and our temporary closure, these are exciting and productive times at the Indiana Medical History Museum.
This organization has come a long way in recent years. Among other things, we are making it a priority to better manage and care for all of our collections, and, as much as possible, make them accessible to the public. In late 2019, after successfully completing a large project to catalog the Museum’s library collection, we began a similar project to catalog, organize, and better protect our extensive archival collection. Our goals were to improve accessibility of the materials, identify holes in the collection, better track conditions, prioritize materials for digitization, and better manage and track use of the materials.
We currently don't know the full extent of our archival collection precisely, but we estimate that the collection contains approximately 5,500 documents (personal papers, research notes, pamphlets, charts, instruction sheets, loose records, photographs, sketches, advertisements, class photos, etc.), including many oversized or rolled documents, plus hundreds of pieces of framed artwork, ledger books, and 16mm film reels and about 11,000 (!) glass plate negatives.
As was the case with the library collection before we completed Phase I of this project, we just don't know everything we have. We can't always locate materials that we know we have, because storage locations in many cases have changed numerous times over the years. Our archival collections have been disorganized and inadequately protected on shelves that are sometimes unstable and frequently inefficient and unsecured. To protect and make better use of these materials, we must organize and store them using archival quality materials and secure, and in some cases fire and water resistant, shelves and cabinets. Last month we were awarded a $15,000 Heritage Support Grant provided by the Indiana Historical Society and made possible by Lilly Endowment, Inc. to help us accomplish this.
This is such important work. It’s critical, in fact, to our mission to preserve and present Indiana’s rich medical history. We are stewards of a wonderful collection that contains a wealth of knowledge and many rare and very historically significant materials. When this project is completed, these materials will be much more useful for our internal research, publications, and exhibits. And most will be available to patrons, as well, when we reopen to the public and establish our Reading Room hours.
We miss seeing you all here in the Old Pathology Building for tours and programs. But we’re making good use of this time to improve our digital and virtual offerings and to improve your experience and your access to our collections when it’s safe to have you back. Thanks for your patience and your continued support! It means so much to us.
Top: The IMHM collection includes many pieces of artwork, including works created by patients. The works of the transient artist John Zwara are among the most exceptional. We have 22 of his paintings, 21 of which were done while he was a patient at Central State Hospital in the spring and summer of 1938. Most depict the grounds of the hospital as they were at that time. He painted several of the hospital’s large buildings, like this one of the Pathological Department that now houses the IMHM, as well as areas of the grounds.
Bottom: Our collection consists of many ledgers of autopsy records from Central State Hospital as well as admissions, bookkeeping, and other types of records from a number of other hospitals. Here is a ledger from Long Hospital in Indianapolis.