Intern Report: Learning to Process Collections

This is a guest post by Lauren Wolters, UCSF Archives Intern.

I have recently completed my internship working in the UCSF Archives and Special Collections. I really enjoyed the challenge of a new experience and learned a tremendous amount in my short time working there.

During my internship I was able to complete several processing and arrangement projects. I created two finding aids, one for the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute records and another for the files of Bernice Hemphill, longtime head of the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank.

I appreciated the opportunity to learn from an archival mentor and gain practical experience by independently processing each collection and working with tangible materials. It was very satisfying being able to contribute to the preservation of these documents and their history and help make them more accessible for future use. I look forward to being able to pursue future endeavors with an informed understanding of the archival process.

Processing the Papers of Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop

We are processing the papers of J. Michael Bishop, Nobel Prize-winning scientist and UCSF Chancellor Emeritus. The project will produce a detailed finding aid for the collection and a digital collection of selected material.

J. Michael Bishop

J. Michael Bishop

J. Michael Bishop, MD, joined the UCSF faculty in 1968. He was appointed director of the GW Hooper Research Foundation in 1981 and named UCSF Chancellor in 1998, a post he held until 2009. He continues to serve as Hooper’s director and as professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

In 1989, Bishop and his research colleague, Harold Varmus, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in cancer research. Bishop and Varmus discovered the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. Their work helped clarify the processes that convert normal cellular genes into cancer genes and impacted our understanding of the genesis of human cancer.

Bishop and Varmus. Photograph Collection, Bishop.

Bishop and Varmus in laboratory. Photograph Collection, Bishop.

Bishop’s papers (MSS 2007-21) contain his laboratory research notebooks and professional papers, including article drafts, correspondence with other scientists, and teaching and lecture material. Also included are drafts and figures from Bishop’s autobiographical book, How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science.

Handwritten wager between UC Berkeley faculty member Mike Botchan and Art Levinson, Bishop's staff scientist at the time. Figure included in Bishop's book, How to Win the Nobel Prize. Exhibit files, Bishop.

1983 wager between UC Berkeley faculty member Mike Botchan and Arthur Levinson, Bishop’s staff scientist at the time. Figure included in Bishop’s book, How to Win the Nobel Prize. Exhibit files, Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21.

Group photograph of California Nobel Prize winners with family members and dogs. Exhibit files, Bishop.

Group photograph of California Nobel Prize winners with family members and dogs, 1998. Bishop pictured at center. Exhibit files, Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21.

The collection even includes replicas of Varmus and Bishop’s Nobel Prize medals!

Replicas of Varmus and Bishop Nobel Prize medals. MSS 2007-21.

Replicas of Varmus and Bishop Nobel Prize medals. MSS 2007-21.

The UCSF Archives and Special Collections also houses the papers of Harold E. Varmus (MSS 93-51, MSS 84-25, and MSS 88-47). Please contact us if you would like to view any of these collections.

Archiving and the Frontier

This is a guest post by Phoebe Jones, UCSF Archives and Special Collections Volunteer.

In the couple of months that I have volunteered with the Archives and Special Collections, I have had the opportunity to survey the Committee on Arts and Lectures collection (AR 2015-17). From 1957-1968 UCSF’s Committee on Arts and Lectures organized and facilitated lectures, art exhibitions, and musical events for the UCSF community. This collection is comprised of audiovisual components, photographs, programs, announcements and books upon books of lecture transcripts.

Program for the 1971 Winter Quarter evening cultural classes. Note tuition prices for these classes ranged from $4.00-$24.00. AR 2015-17.

Program for the 1971 Winter Quarter evening cultural classes. Note tuition prices for these classes ranged from $4.00-$24.00. AR 2015-17.

One lecture series in this collection is titled, “Noon Topics.” For this series, the Committee would bring in a speaker about every week to address the community. Various speakers over the decade included Ansel Adams, Barnaby Conrad, and Arthur Russell Moore. Lecture topics ranged from Chinese philosophy to jazz music, from Italian culture to humankind’s existential significance.

The Noon Topics Fall 1966 program. Ansel Adams opened the season. Unfortunately his lecture was not transcribed. AR 2015-17.

The Noon Topics Fall 1966 program. Ansel Adams opened the season. Unfortunately his lecture was not transcribed. AR 2015-17.

The Noon Topics program of events of 1960 captures the intention behind establishing this lecture series:

“‘Noon Topics’ are designed to promote an interest in Human Ecology: the science of man in an ever-changing environment which is influenced by the geography, sociologic structure, and the biologic species therein. These lectures present “frontier thinking” in many fields of science, philosophy, literature, and human affairs- areas which influence directly or indirectly, the physical and psychological environment and the well-being of man.”

What I love most about this mission statement is the phrase, “frontier thinking.” I find the notion that each lecture was in some way revelatory of the great un-thought and unknown, humbling. But here we are in 2015 reading these transcripts and the question, “have we yet forged this lecturer’s frontier,” remains.

I tend to think that it is too easy to frame ideas and concepts from the past as mere stepping stones to “true” advancement or achievement; “thank goodness person x discovered y or else we would never have later produced z.” While this line of thought is not necessarily patronizing- it acknowledges the significance of such a piece in the grander puzzle- it ultimately strips the initial discovery of its frontier quality.

“Frontier” suggests a future that is beyond what has been revealed but not beyond the hope and potential of it one day being unveiled. To describe something as “frontier” suggests an element of wonder, movement and the unexpected. Therefore, “frontier thinking” may be the most apt term for the Noon Topics’ celebration of the present discoveries in Human Ecology and humanity’s continued pursuit of the “greater.”

The Spring Quarter 1967 Noon Topics Program title page. AR 2015-17.

The Spring Quarter 1967 Noon Topics Program title page. AR 2015-17.

As an individual new to the world of archiving, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to honor the past as a composite of the present and the future.  How can I respect the past (whether in the form of an individual’s life, an ideology, even an event preserved in a newspaper headline) for both what it was at that moment in time and what it will be or can be?

On the first day of volunteering at the archives I could not help but wonder, how do we decide what is worth keeping around? It did not take me long to realize that the act of archiving is an active and constant mediation of the past, present, and future. In working through this collection and thinking about its concept of “Frontier,” it seems that we can only begin to look at a lecture transcript and make a holistic interpretation of its worth if we first consider the complex contexts in which it developed and evolved.