Health Magazine

Stories from the Stacks Vol. 3: I Found Exactly What I Needed! But It’s on Microfilm.

By Chp

– contributed by Chelsea Chamberlin, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pennsylvania.

CCHP: Dates of on-site research visit at CCHP:

CC: June 25, 2018 – July 13, 2018

CCHP: What led you to the CCHP?

CC: Having completed my comprehensive exams in the spring, the CCHP was my first big research trip for my dissertation. I first learned about the archives in Akron from the citations in Paul McReynolds’s biography of Lightner Witmer while writing a research paper in my first year. A quick search of their catalog revealed they had the papers of so many people I knew would appear in my dissertation! Little did I know that McReynolds would provide even more exciting information in the archive itself.

CCHP: What were you looking for and why?

CC: The CCHP has the personal collections of a number of psychologists who are important figures in my dissertation, among them Henry Herbert Goddard, J.E. Wallace Wallin, and Leta Stetter Hollingworth. Although I had read some of these psychologists’ published works, I was hoping that their collections would hold more insight into their day-to-day lives, and especially how their professional and personal lives intersected with each other.

CCHP: What did you find?

CC: These collections did not disappoint. I gained a much better understanding of each of these psychologists’ ideologies, personalities, and personal and professional networks.

The person I feel I got to know best was J.E. Wallace Wallin. Very little has been written about Wallin; his reputation as an educational psychologist celebrates the sheer number of diagnostic clinics and “special school” systems that he established throughout the US. His correspondence, though, indicates that this accomplishment was no intentional plan of Wallin’s, but rather a consequence of his quite cantankerous personality. He was rarely happy where he was, and the people around him were rarely happy either. And so, he shuffled about the country from position to position, looking for administrators who wouldn’t infuriate him and the reputation he felt he deserved. This isolation and discontent, I suspect, helped him speak out against the spread of and reliance on intelligence testing, despite the fact that testing’s founder and advocate, H.H. Goddard, was one of his mentors. Indeed, Goddard and Wallin corresponded regularly, though often with frustration as Wallin complained and Goddard told him to sit tight and suck it up. Perhaps my favorite find was a line in a letter when Goddard finally lost his temper, writing: “The fact is, Wallin, there are several points of resemblance between you and a jack-ass.” Quite a surprise coming from the otherwise mild-mannered Quaker!

CCHP: Were there any fun, interesting, or unexpected surprises?

CC: This question brings me back to Paul McReynolds, whose papers are also held at the CCHP. These papers are mostly the physical manifestations of his research method for the Witmer biography. They not only provided an enlightening (for me) look at how one did research before the internet age, they also revealed a separate collection that had not been accessed in over a decade, and which had not shown up in my catalog searches. Lightner Witmer founded the nation’s first Psychological Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, and in his research McReynolds had accessed the records of that clinic. The records had been placed on microfilm and sent to the CCHP, and the originals at Penn destroyed. A letter between McReynolds and John Popplestone, the founder and then-director of the archives, mentioned this microfilm. I showed the letter to Lizette Barton, who set upon a search and found the microfilm! These case records can shed light on some of the central questions of my project: What motivated parents to bring a child to a clinic? How did they narrate their child’s perceived disability? What factors shaped the diagnoses and treatment recommendations given, and how did parents implement or ignore those recommendations?

CCHP: Any let downs? 

CC: The microfilm raised new and important ethical questions. These clinic records contain the lives of real people, and because visitors were often young children, some of them may still be alive. Archivists are stewards of not only paper records, but the lives and dignity of the people contained within them. Historians, too, are responsible for honoring the lives and personhood of our subjects, and this means respecting their privacy as much as we can. For me, this duty is magnified by the nature of how my subjects entered the historical record: as often involuntary patients, as children, many of whom were institutionalized. The let down, then, was discovering that the records exist, and then deciding with the archivists that these ethical considerations meant I could not look at them–yet.

CCHP: What’s next?

CC: Because the names of these patients must be protected, the CCHP is working to find out how the records can be duplicated and redacted. This way, these valuable sources can be accessed, not only by me, but by other researchers as well, while keeping identifiable information out of the public record.

CCHP: Have any final thoughts?

CC: I want to thank the CCHP, especially Lizette Barton and Arianna Iliff. Three weeks is a long time to spend in one archive, and they pulled an absurd number of boxes without complaint. Lizette shouldered the task of finding the microfilm, unearthing it’s provenance (where it came from), and determining how to balance privacy with access. All the staff at the CCHP were welcoming and helpful–even loaning me a bike so I could explore Akron and commute to the archive each day! And they did all of this immediately after hosting a conference, a daunting and exhausting tasks. Thank you!

Stories from the Stacks Vol. 3: I found exactly what I needed! But it’s on microfilm.

Chelsea working in the reading room during her visit – summer 2018


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