NMAH Week 1

I am almost done with my first week here at NMAH, and already feel like I have gotten a lot of work done. The Lemelson folks have been very helpful and organized in getting me settled, and I started research almost right away, about 2 hours after I got there Monday morning. Despite having yesterday off for Independence Day, I managed to get through about 10 boxes of archival stuff, then spent the afternoon organizing photos I’d taken in the archive. After that, I finally found a coffee shop where I was comfortable doing work, and got in a good 2 hours of writing before heading home. Not bad for a day that didn’t even start super early!

 

Tomorrow, I’m meeting with the curator of computer technologies, and then heading to the Natural History museum to meet with the anthropology librarian. The anthropology library has a lot of material on the 19th century history of methods of measuring bodies, particularly in physical anthropology. These methods continue to be used in human factors and Universal Design research today, and part of what I am interested in is the historical relation of methods to ideology (from eugenics and colonialism to disability access). I did a good bit of this work in the archives this week with primary sources, looking at the Warshaw collection’s business ephemera on artificial limbs (post-civil war) and a whole bunch of creepy phrenology stuff from the 19th century.

 

Next week, I’m heading to the Library of Congress to access some texts that are unavailable elsewhere (and also to check out what promises to be an amazing reading room). I’m also hoping to get to the Smithsonian institutional archive to look at some of their accessibility work.

 

Everyone always tells me that you end up doing way too much research for the dissertation, and it is totally true. I have hundreds of photos and enough materials to probably do several other projects. Sometimes, something will present itself and send me down a rabbit hole. At this point, I am trying to make sure I do a few hours of writing each day as a way of processing what I am collecting. Most of the research I am spending a lot of time on might only make it into a footnote, but I can’t do a rigorous project without it. This kind of intellectual labor is hard but really interesting and fulfilling – like solving a puzzle or going on an adventure.

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