Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Oh Olof! Setting part of the record straight


Olof Larsell's book, The Doctor in Oregon, is at least as good and useful as our constant referencing of it in this blog and elsewhere should lead you to believe. However, he was a busy, busy man (as any glance at his list of published works will reveal), and he did have students and other helpers assembling materials for the book. So, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised when we learn about errors in the text.

Today's case in point is the information on George F. Koehler, who was an early faculty member at the University of Oregon Medical School. Larsell correctly notes that Koehler graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1889 and came to Portland in 1890. He also notes that Koehler taught anatomy here (1891-98) and states that he went on to specialize in gastroenterology. Sure enough, Koehler shows back up in the faculty ranks in 1907 as a clinical assistant in medicine; he made his way up to Associate Professor before his untimely death in...1921? That's the date Larsell records, but Koehler appears in the 1922-23 class announcement. Well, maybe the proof was already off at the printers before Koehler died.

But happily, a contact from a descendant of Koehler's is shedding new light. His research shows that George died on March 11, 1923, and that he was born not in Germany as Larsell writes but in Oregon in 1867 (although on a passport application Koehler listed 1866 as his birthday--so, you can see why historians get confused!) His father, a dentist, was a German by birth, and his mother was an Irishwoman--according to the 1920 census; according to the 1900 census she was from New York.

So, what does this tell us about Larsell's book? It is, like all other histories, imperfect, though Larsell does better with medical facts (especially about fellow anatomists!) than with non-medical facts. What does this tell us about historical research? It's enough to make one tear one's hair out.

Shown: George F. Koehler, from the 1897 UOMS Commencement photo

1 comment:

Karen said...

Oh, so true.