Monday, March 24, 2008

Workshop report, and, What's on the New Books Shelf

A little something for everyone today, both library/archives/museum practitioners and medical history buffs who couldn't care less about the inner workings of repositories.

First up: What's New on the New Books Shelf.
The OHSU Library has just cataloged two new titles of potential interest to you history of medicine fans out there. Post mortem : solving history's great medical mysteries by Philip A. Mackowiak (American College of Physicians, c2007), is a great contribution to the history of "Diseases of the Famous"--sometimes referred to as "Was Napoleon Murdered?" or "Who Is Buried in Grant's Tomb?" (maybe that's another topic--but you get the idea). Actually, there are more and better teasers in the book blurb itself:
Their lives changed history. Their deaths were mysteries, until now! Post-Mortem: Solving History's Great Medical Mysteries by Philip A. Mackowiak, MD, FACP, examines the controversial lives and deaths of 12 famous men and women. Post-Mortem answers vexing questions such as: Was Alexander the Great a victim of West Nile virus? What caused the gruesome final illness of King Herod? Was Joan of Arc mentally ill during her heresy trial? Could syphillis have made Beethoven deaf? Did Edgar Allan Poe drink himself to death? This new book also investigates the mysterious deaths of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, the Greek statesman and general Pericles, the Roman Emperor Claudius, Christopher Columbus, Mozart, Florence Nightingale, and Booker T. Washington. Post-Mortem traces 3,500 years of medical history from the perspective of what contemporary physicians thought about the diseases of their renowned patients and how they might have treated them. It follows the case history format of today's clinical pathologic conferences, describing the characteristics of the illnesses in question, and bringing to life the medical history, social history, family history, and physical examination of their famous victims. Post-Mortem then sifts through the medical evidence, testing a wide range of diagnostic theories against the known facts and today's best scientific research, to arrive at the diagnosis most consistent with the illness described in the historic record.
The second interesting medical history title on today's new books shelf is Home visits : a return to the classical role of the physician by geriatrician Alfred E. Stillman (Radcliffe, c2007). Stillman, who is also co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Home Visit Doctors, records his experiences in caring for frail and elderly patients who simply cannot make it to doctors' offices--and who cannot get most doctors to come to them. A throwback to the early years of the twentieth century, the home visit is on the rise in some areas; Stillman's book can aid in studies comparing this "new" phenomenon with its early history.

Topic #2: Streaming Audio and SMIL for Oral Histories Workshop short report.
My first and most substantive comment is this: for those who curate oral history collections, collect oral histories, or think they might someday have to care for oral history materials in their collections, this workshop is a fantastic resource for learning about digital preservation and presentation of the audio and its corresponding transcript (if available). For video, Trevor Bond recommends outsourcing--unless you really want to invest in the technology and the staff resources. For most smaller repositories out there, this is surely excellent advice.

The really good news from Friday's workshop is that, for audio streaming and podcasting, it's really not that hard anymore. Many tools have come onto the market, including some free options, that make web presentation of audio feasible even for very small institutions. Some of the class was spent on discussions of digital audio best practices; for ongoing oral history projects, it's clear that quality recording at the point of creation leads to quality audio files for presentation. For legacy audio, there are programs to help with sound editing; removal of scratches and taps will become a matter of policy (how faithful should we be to the original recordings?) rather than one of technical feasibility.

At the end of the day, as we were getting a little punchy, Trevor took us on a tour of some oral history web sites, to apply "best practice" standards in reviewing design and accessibility. For those interested in a little visual inspiration, check out Historical Voices, a great compendium of sites utilizing audio files in web presentations.

I know I've been inspired, and I already have a pilot project in mind (so it's a good thing the Web Manager went with me!)....

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