Archives Open Houses

October is coming to a close, and with it our Archives Month festivities, but we still have two open houses in the next week for those who would like to come and check out our reading room and some of our materials:

On Saturday, October 28th, we are participating in the San Francisco Archives Crawl, and our reading room will be open from noon until 5pm. On display will be materials from our collections that document counterculture and protest movements, including records from the UCSF Black Caucus, AIDS History Project materials, and selections from the Tobacco Control Archives.

On Monday, October 30th, we will be holding our 2nd annual Halloween Open House from noon until 3pm, where we will showcase some of our “spooky” holdings. This event is being held in conjunction with the Library Maker’s Lab Halloween event, and we will have a button maker available on the 5th floor for those who would like to create Halloween-themed buttons and magnets based upon materials in our collections.

One of the objects on display for our Halloween Open House is our 1883 edition of the Heinrich Hoffmann children’s book, Der Struwwelpeter (or Shockheaded Peter). The book itself is well-known for its collection of rhyming allegories about the dangers of children misbehaving, such as our title character pictured below, who is named Peter and has some shockingly bad grooming habits.

Bound with our copy of Der Struwwelpeter is an adaption of the same work from 1882 by an Obstetrical-Gynecological society that was evidently distributed at a society dinner. Frighteningly, whoever decided to do the adaption chose to focus on childhood disease, instead of misbehavior, and illustrate each disease with it’s own drawing. Even the “normal child” pictured below is a bit unsettling!

Archives Month — October 2017

Librarian Dorothy Allen explains how to use reference materials in the library. October is Archives Month! (also AIDS Awareness Month coincidentally). Since we’re an archive, we’re celebrating! Archives Month, if you haven’t heard of it, is “an opportunity to tell (or remind) people that items that are important to them are being preserved, cataloged, cared for, and made accessible by archivists.” We’ll be taking this opportunity to host all kinds of events and happenings which will revolve around the historical materials we preserve.

What exactly will we be doing? A lot! Here’s a brief summary:

  • On October 4th: Opening reception at 12 pm for our exhibit of Dr. Arthur Ammann’s photo-montages — a call for an end to the violence against women represented by the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • Also on October 4th: We’ll be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day on October 4th all day long. We’ll be diligently tending our Twitter account (@ucsf_archives), so send us questions about our collections, our jobs, or anything else to do with stewardship of historical materials! Tag your questions with #AskAnArchivist to join the conversation.
  • On October 6: Archives Lecture at 12 pm by Dr. David Smith on the history of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, which he founded 50 years ago just down the street.
  • On October 17: ZSFG Archives Drop-in exhibit at 12 pm. Learn about the history of ZSFG, meet Griffin the ZSFG Archivist, and see materials from the collections.
  • On October 28: Visit us and other SF institutions for San Francisco Archives Crawl: Counterculture and Social Protest, 12-5pm.
  • On October 30: A Spoooooky Halloween open house at 12 pm in our reading room where we’ll exhibit various macabre images and frightening implements from the early days of medicine.

A Dental Student work on the teeth of a patient.

And of course, the main thing we will do this month is the same thing we do every month: steward the materials that document our collective past and inform our future. We hope you’ll join us in October to celebrate archives, and thank you for your support!

The Flying Death and Other Adventures in Anesthesia

It is amazing to think that curare, a poison sometimes known as “The Flying Death” and used on the tips of darts and arrows by indigenous people of South America, could prove to be an important stepping stone in the path to modern anesthesia. But then again, curare is not a simple poison, but actually a powerful muscle relaxant; after injection, an animal that has been shot with a curare-tipped dart can actually be kept alive through artificial respiration. More importantly to the native tribes—as they would not have needed to resuscitate their dinners—curare brings about paralysis and asphyxiation when injected (either by dart, arrow, or needle), but is not poisonous if ingested.

curare

A native tribesman demonstrating his prowess with a blowgun typically used with curare darts. Clip taken from Richard Gill’s film “White Water and Black Magic”.

Curare was first brought to the United States by Richard Gill, an American living in Ecuador, in 1938. Gill had become interested in the medicinal uses of curare after falling off his horse and developing neurological symptoms including spasticity. After being told about curare by his neurologist, Gill sought out and befriended a tribe who used the arrow poison. The indigenous people then showed him how to procure and use it, and Gill eventually returned to the US with approximately 25 pounds of curare paste.

gill

Richard Gill sitting with a native tribesman while watching another tribesman cook down curare. Clip also taken from “White Water and Black Magic”.

Medical experiments with curare began as early as the 19th century, but its use in anesthesia didn’t start until the mid-20th century, after Gill had introduced it in the US. One of its first uses was to prevent bone fractures brought about by spasms during electro-convulsive therapy. Since it is such a powerful muscle relaxant, curare proved helpful for tracheal intubation, and in keeping the patients’ muscles relaxed during operative procedures. It also lessened the need for the use of deep general anesthesia during highly invasive operations, like abdominal or thoracic surgeries.

mss201603_gillcartoon1

1943 cartoon by Clark Haas depicting Richard Gill visiting native peoples to obtain more curare. Arthur Guedel collection, MSS 2016-03.

Despite its usefulness in relaxing patients, curare has no analgesic (painkilling) or anesthetic qualities. This was proven in the 1940s, after curare was given to some infants and children as the sole anesthetic agent during operative procedures. The patients who were old enough to communicate complained that they had felt everything during the surgery but were unable to move or cry out about the excruciating pain they were feeling. Upon hear this, anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Smith volunteered to take the drug in order to test whether curare did have any pain-relieving qualities. He became paralyzed but reported that the reduction of painful sensations was not impacted. Like the young patients before him, Smith had felt everything, but had not been able to move to stop it.