Pairing Art with Artifact: The Development of Open Wide

This is a guest post by exhibit curator Sabrina Oliveros

Open Wide: 500 Years of Dentistry in Art, which formally opens on September 27 with a reception at the UCSF Library, features a wealth of artworks that depict how perspectives on dentistry, and dentistry itself, have changed over the centuries. The pieces range from satires and caricatures to religious prints and anatomical plates, and they come from artists as different and distinguished as George Cruikshank, Honoré-Victorin Daumier, Francisco de Goya, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and Marc Chagall.

Remarkable as the art may be, they only comprise half the treasures – and tell part of the stories – in Open Wide.

For this exhibit to find its form, it needed to pair art with artifacts.

Which artifacts could go on display with which artworks? Early project research meant to answer this question.

Which artifacts could go on display with which artworks? Early project research meant to answer this question.

Gateways to learning

Many of the prints in Open Wide had been exhibited from 2003 to 2004 in a show of the same name at the University at Buffalo. When UCSF loaned the artworks from their owner, Dr. Morton G. Rivo, the goal was to expand on the original show using items from Archives & Special Collections. If an artwork illustrated a specific moment in the history of dentistry, the artifacts could elaborate on that moment, helping contextualize what the art showed and turn it into a touchpoint for learning more about the profession.

With some pieces, this task was rather straightforward. The etching Der Zahnzieher (c. 1631-35) by Jan Joris van Vliet (c. 1610 – after 1635), for example, shows a tooth-puller at work; on the wall behind him is a bleeding bowl. Bleeding bowls – which were used to catch drops of a patient’s blood during bloodletting procedures – are among the many historical objects in UCSF’s collections.

Displaying a bowl beside Der Zahnzieher not only added three-dimensionality to the print. It opened an opportunity to discuss why the bowl is in the image and what a tooth-puller used it for (bloodletting was once believed to relieve toothaches). Its presence in the print also suggests that the tooth-puller might have been a barber-surgeon, the kind of tradesman who would have certainly owned such a tool. What is a barber-surgeon and why is this distinction significant in dental practice? Questions and answers can go and on – indicating just how a single artifact can become a gateway into the history of dentistry.


The breadth of UCSF’s collections also allowed for other kinds of juxtaposition.

Take one case on the library’s third floor, which contains the print Easing the Toothach (sic). Created long before anything we now use as anesthesia, the image shows a patient who is in such pain that he pulls off his dentist’s wig during treatment. Antique vials of Novocain and an ether gas mask – forerunners of modern local anesthesia – surround the print. In contrast to the bleeding bowl display, the artifacts here expound on the development of dental practice by showing what is absent from the art, not what is visible in it.

Easing the Toothach (sic), by a follower of James Gillray (1757-1815), is the centerpiece of a display on pain management artifacts.

Easing the Toothach (sic), by a follower of James Gillray (1757-1815), is the centerpiece of a display on pain management artifacts.

Another piece on the third floor, the hand-colored engraving Tugging at Eye (High) Tooth (1821), helps showcase a different facet of UCSF’s collections.

 The colorful scene, set in a well-decorated dentist’s office, is by George Cruikshank (1792-1878), one of the most prolific artists during Britain’s golden age of caricature and satire. It shows a dentist furiously at work on a hapless patient, surrounded by his books, dentures, and instruments like teeth-scrapers, a mirror, and a mallet. This piece could have been displayed with similar tools in UCSF’s vaults, again lending three-dimensionality to the office Cruikshank depicts. But there was more to be mined from the print.

Cruikshank lined the dentist’s shelves with titles like Miseries of Human Life, Tales of Terror, and Frankenstein – a tongue-in-cheek suggestion of what the distressed patient is going through. Funny as these were, they raised a few questions: what kinds of books would (or should) have been on a professional dentist’s shelves? And which books shaped the practice so patients would become more comfortable in the chair?

Following this line of thought, the case thus features rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries that advanced knowledge about dentistry. They include the first modern textbook on oral surgery, the first work on orthodontics, and the book that introduced terms like molars and cuspids.

The final third-floor display entitled “The Dentist’s Bookshelf.”

The final third-floor display entitled “The Dentist’s Bookshelf.”

An appropriate addition

Beyond artifacts and rare books, Open Wide also exhibits selections from UCSF’s Japanese woodblock print and School of Dentistry photograph collections. Yet in a university library’s show about dental art and history, perhaps some of the most meaningful materials from the Archives are yearbooks from the school’s early decades.

The Chaff yearbooks displayed on the fifth floor were published from 1897 to 1909 by the junior class of the UC College of Dentistry. They include some truly eye-catching art: one illustration depicts a procedure as an intense sporting match, complete with a referee, spectators, and blow-by-blow commentary; another shows two patients atop a trophy or pedestal, looking like they barely survived a fight. (Its caption? “Patience on a Monument.”)

Such images proved interesting – and unthinkable not to put on exhibit – because they offer historical records of how dental students themselves viewed their profession. More than that, their perspectives surprisingly echo the wry and comical tone of many artworks loaned for Open Wide.

As far as pairing art and artifacts go, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate match than that.

"It is indeed a funny world, But hard truth mingles with the Chaff. It takes some study ere a man May know exactly when to laugh".

A verse from the 1900 volume of Chaff helps explain the spirit behind some yearbook art.




Corresponding with Ralph H. Kellogg: A Record of Natural Beauty, Values, and Preservation

This is a guest post by Lynda Letona, Archives Assistant, regarding her project to process additions to the Ralph H. Kellogg papers.


This is the second and final blog on the Ralph H. Kellogg papers, the first of which appeared here:

Dr. Ralph H. Kellogg’s correspondence (1947-2007) features timely letters appealing to lawmakers on the need to preserve national parks in addition to editorial feedback and advice given to well-regarded physiologists who wrote important works on mountain journeys and high-altitude sickness. Below is a letter (dated May 25, 1954) addressed to Congressman John J. Allen, Jr. on the need to preserve national parks. This letter speaks in opposition to building a dam that would flood parts of Dinosaur National Monument, endangering the natural beauty, and value “to the country as a whole” reminding the reader that we can only preserve such natural treasures, “we cannot make them.” Dr. Kellogg refers to the construction of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, an important moment in environmental history to avoid repeating.

[Letter from Ralph H. Kellogg to Congressman John J. Allen on the need to preserve Dinosaur National Monument, 1954-05-25, MSS 90-38, carton 22, folder 2]

[Letter from Ralph H. Kellogg to Congressman John J. Allen on the need to preserve Dinosaur National Monument, 1954-05-25, MSS 90-38, carton 22, folder 2]

In his correspondence with colleagues such as Dr. John Burnard West, professor of physiology at the University of California, San Diego, and researcher in high-altitude medicine and adaptation, we come upon inspiring writings on the beauty of mountain exploration which serves as the impetus for the climber’s quest and the consequent need for research on respiration and high altitude physiology–a long-time shared research interest for Dr. Kellogg as well:

[Excerpt from “Mountain Journeys” by John B. West, quote by Reinhold Messner, the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest without using supplemental oxygen, MSS 90-38, carton 24, folder 19]

[Excerpt from “Mountain Journeys” by John B. West, quote by Reinhold Messner, the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest without using supplemental oxygen, MSS 90-38, carton 24, folder 19]

The history of altitude sickness is well preserved in Dr. Kellogg’s Correspondence Series and in his published works in the Research Series. The Daniel A. Gilbert file, where he exchanged correspondence with Dr. Gilbert, professor of physiology and a past Bowditch Lecturer of the American Physiological Society for outstanding scientist younger than 42, contains a paper titled “The First Documented Description of Mountain Sickness: The Andean or Pariacaca Story.” In this paper authored by Dr. Gilbert, we have another important document where the author credits Dr. Kellogg for his valuable advice. The folder also contains photographs of Pariacaca, the highest mountain in the Pariacaca mountain range in the Andes of Peru.

[Air view showing the west side of Pariacaca, 1990, MSS 90-38, carton 24, Folder 10]

[Air view showing the west side of Pariacaca, 1990, MSS 90-38, carton 24, Folder 10]

[Pariacaca, MSS 90-38, carton 24, Folder 10]

[Pariacaca, MSS 90-38, carton 24, Folder 10]

References and further reading:

(2000, October 18). Daniel L. Gilbert. Washington Post. Retrieved from

(2014). History of the Valley. Restore Hetch Hetchy. Retrieved from

(n.d.). Echo Park Dam Controversy. Colorado Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

OAC. (n.d.). West (John B.) Papers. Retrieved from

UCSF Archives & Special Collections awarded $99,325 LSTA grant for textual data extraction from historical materials on AIDS/HIV

The Archives and Special Collections department of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Library has been awarded a $99,325 “Pitch-An-Idea, Local” grant for the first year of a two-year project from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Library Services and Technology Act funding administered through the California State Library. The Archives will take the nearly 200,000 pages of textual AIDS/HIV historical materials which have been digitized as part of various digitization projects — including the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)-funded project­, “Evolution of San Francisco’s Response to a Public Health Crisis;” and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)-funded project, “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic” — and will extract unstructured, textual data from these materials using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and related software. The project team will prepare the text as a research-ready, unstructured textual dataset to be used for digital humanities, computationally driven cultural heritage, and machine learning research inquiries into the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The 24-month project, entitled “No More Silence — Opening the Data of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic” has commenced as of July 1, 2018. The digitized materials from which text will be extracted include handwritten correspondence, notebooks, typed reports, and agency records which represent a broad view of the lived experience of the epidemic, including documentation from People with AIDS and their friends, families, and scientists and public health officials working to slow the epidemic. All historical materials represented in this dataset have been previously screened to address privacy concerns. The resulting unstructured, textual dataset will be deposited in the UC Dash datasharing repository for public access and use by any interested parties, and will also be deposited in other similar data repositories as appropriate. “During my tenure at UCSF,” says health sciences historian and professor in the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at UCSF, Dr. Aimee Medeiros, “I have been inspired by the library’s enthusiasm and dedication to public access and the use of practices in the digital humanities to help maximize access to HIV/AIDS material.” This project will build on that legacy by bringing these valuable historical materials into the realm of digital humanities and scientific research and making them computationally actionable.

According to Dr. Paul Volberding, director of the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF, “Discovering the complexities of the virus and developing effective treatments will be studied of course, but the lives of those directly involved as patients as well as care providers is equally significant. The cultural aspects of the epidemic will most directly benefit from the work [of this project]. Combining the growing field of computational science with the already large and rapidly growing archive of materials from all aspects of the AIDS epidemic demand the creation of new tools and I look forward to the new insights we gain from their application. [UCSF Library has] been sharply focused on the AIDS archives and have amassed a rich collection that, in its digitized form, will be the database for [these] new efforts. Together, this database and new computational tools, will enable a sophisticated analysis that I am convinced will be used to shed more insight in our understanding of the impact of the epidemic and ways our response will have meaning in the inevitable future crises.”

Once the preparation of the textual dataset is completed, the project team — consisting of archivists and technical staff from both the Archives and the Library — will embark on several pilot research projects using machine learning, and especially natural language processing research methods, on the data. The pilot projects, which will be scoped in collaboration with various stakeholders, will attempt to explore what kinds of structured data can be pulled out of the unstructured text, and define some simple critical inquiries which can be understood using this data, these methods, and the results of these experimental endeavors. Additionally the project team hopes to get a better sense of the functional requirements for systems supplying this type of data when tailored towards these kinds of medical humanities research questions. Through these efforts the project team will be able to better define the extent to which, as stated by Dr. Medeiros, “making 200,000 pages of primary-source archival documentation converted to unstructured textual data will… further meaningful research and our understanding of this epidemic.”

Finally, the project team will promote the existence of this dataset, and will lead workshops to help instruct potentially interested students, researchers, scholars, and members of the general public in its use. Again in the words of Dr. Medeiros, “the plans to provide workshops to help curious scholars learn how to best interface with this data is exciting as it will allow for those who are experts in the field but not necessarily in the digital medical humanities to conduct important research.”

This project will support innovation, creativity, and collaboration in and across the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by opening up a new body of historical materials for research and discovery. The project will foster new creative research methods in the areas of the humanities, which are just beginning to experiment with computationally-driven research, and it will encourage collaboration through the use of the newly-created data resource, engaging the expertise of both humanists and scientists in making discoveries in the data. Not only does this collaborative work allow for innovation “at the edges” of each of these fields, it allows for computational access to a previously-inaccessible research object — the data of the lived experience and cultural history of the AIDS crisis in the Bay Area and beyond.

The following institutions and groups are serving as informal partners on this project:

About UCSF Archives & Special Collections (UCSF Library)
The mission of the UCSF Archives & Special Collections is to identify, collect, organize, interpret, and maintain rare and unique material to support research and teaching of the health sciences and medical humanities and to preserve institutional memory. The UCSF AIDS History Project (AHP) began in 1987 as a joint effort of historians, archivists, AIDS activists, health care providers, scientists, and others to secure historically significant resources documenting the response to the AIDS crisis, its holdings currently include 46 collections and they continue to grow.

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About the Library Services and Technology Act
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that are awarded by the State Library to eligible California libraries. This project was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

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