17 February 2013

Bits and Bobs (the almost finished edition)

My "book"
As I have  mentioned previously, my job for 2012 was to write a book-length history of a 160-year old insane asylum. I had a great time playing history detective for many months at the National Archives and then a much less great time writing about what I found. The text was largely finished by the end of the year, but I am now in the process of finding photos to help tell the story.

I have long had access to over a thousand digitized historcial photographs of the hospital which were always fun to comb through as part of my research. But this week I had the chance to go through hundreds of photos at the archives that are not digitized. It was so much fun discovering the contents of those archive boxes. The images I had access to previously focused almost exclusively on pictures of buildings and landscapes that were useful in the master planning and design work for the redvelopment of the 174-acre campus. So it wonderful finding photos of people and other signs of life that are absent from the architecture photos.

The history will be finished by the end of this week. My boss will do one final copy edit and then it will be "published" as a pdf document and available on the project website. (Budgets are such that there is no money to have the book printed at the moment. In fact, if Congress fails to stop the budget sequestration, I will likely be out of work in about twelve days.)

In case any of you are interested, I will post a link to the history when it is finished.

Some of the staff being very chummy. Undated photo circa 1908.

Nurses in very poofy hats.

Sun porch. The hospital was extremely overcrowded so it is unlikely that this was a typical day at the hospital.

A nurse administering one type of hydrotherapy. The therapy was really just a means to calm patients down and is unlikely to have had any curative effect.

Patients swaddled after hydrotherapy.
They may have enjoyed their bath or shower, but these wraps suggest full body straitjackets to me.

An attendent stands in the industrial shop where patients made wooden toys.

Dining room in one of the wards for African American females. I am mesmerized by the patients looking directly into the camera. Especially the woman in the middle.

My challenges
About half way done with the TBR Double Dog Dare which ends on April 1st. For me, anything that is on the downward slope of halfway counts as almost done.  With so many great "to be read" books on my shelves, this isn't much of a challenge for me. That is until I went to a secondhand bookshop yesterday. The result was that I came home with a grocery bag full of delights and I really wanted to sit down and read a few of them. In particular, there were three or four novellas that were really speaking to me given that I am working through a 900 pager at the moment (more on that below). But I had to stick to the TBR dare so I quickly shelved them in their proper alphabetical homes. Dispersing the haul lessened their collective power over me. No doubt in a week or so I will forget they are there.

With only 35 books left to read on my A Century of Books list I am beginning to see the finish line fast approaching. I was hoping maybe to finish by the end of the TBR dare, but that is beginning to seem pretty close to impossible. No worries though, I've been reading a lot more this year than last and I think I will finish by the end of may for sure. And sooner if I stay away from Wilkie Collins.

My current read
Lately I have been working  my way through the Century list in chronological order. But for some reason Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon all the way at the other end of the list (1999) was calling me like a siren. I was somewhat afraid of this book both because of its 909 pages and my notion that it might be too difficult for my relatively non-scientific mind to follow. But I have loved it almost from the get go. At page 550, as the right side of the book contines to get thinner and lighter, I can physically feel it heading into the home stretch. And I am even looking forward to writing a real review for this one.


  1. I'm a big fan of old photographs, especailly boxes full of them. I know we all love our digital cameras now, or the digital cameras on our smart phones, but I think we've really lost something as a result. Finding a box of old photographs is finding a box of potential treasure. Finding an old smart phone....do you thing anyone will take the time to go through the picture files? Will they even be able to?

    Enjoy the rest of the TBR Double Dog Dare. I've also got a small stack of second hand books I picked up recently that I won't be reading until April 1.

  2. Congrats on nearing completion of the project. Being in the midst of my first long-form piece of writing, I find that truly impressive.

  3. Having read your book, I'm excited to see these pictures.

    Funny that you mention Crypotnomicon. I don't know what brought it to my mind, but I was just thinking about that book the other day. It must be sending out some sort of general signal, asking to be read. Alas, however, I don't have a copy, so I'm not getting to it until after the TBR Dare.

  4. I'm the opposite of Teresa; having seen a few pictures I'm now curious to read the book- and see more images, too!

  5. Sounds like an exciting project. I'd hate doing the research but enjoy the finished product. Great photos - reminds me somewhat of an asylum outside of Boston I've seen photos of a long time ago.

  6. Those images are not nearly as creepy as the ones from American Horror Story: Asylum. I think insane asylum and immediately think: Creepy.

    We had a university that converted from an insane asylum one year and I was tasked with part of that project. I spent many hours in the "hospital" and in each of the rooms or wards and it was frightening to me. The smells and echoes were enough to set my teeth on edge.

  7. Like Jeane, the photos make me want to read the book even more. So exciting to have your work near completion - congratulations!

  8. As I've mentioned to you before I worked a summer for a firm doing work at St Elizabeths -a truly memorable summer as you can imagine. Would LOVE to read a copy when it is released, please let us know!

  9. Oh, I'd definitely love to read it when it's up.

  10. CB: You are right about digital images, But taking a digi photo of the old pictures allows me to magnify so much better than using a magnifying glass on the original photos.

    Ted: I think it seems even more daunting now than it did before I wrote it.

    Teresa: There are many, many more in the text.

    Jeane: Soon...

    Diane: I prefer the research part.

    Ti: This place is a total wreck right now.

    JoAnn: I am at the point where I feel like no one is going to enjoy it.

    Stefan: You'll be the first to know.

    Simon: And the best part is it will be free.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.