Crying in the Library

– by Wood Institute travel grantee Heather Christle*


In 1906, Alvin Borgquist–a little-known graduate student at Clark University–published the world’s first in-depth psychological study of crying, and then appears to have vanished back into a quiet, private life in his native Utah.  His study is moving, strange, detached, threaded through with the racist and colonialist assumptions common to this era (and, distressingly, our own). The questionnaire he crafted to solicit data on typical crying behaviors fascinates me, forming as it does a kind of accidental poem.  Here, for instance, is Borgquist’s first question:

As a child did you ever cry till you almost lost consciousness or things seemed to change about you?  Describe a cry with utter abandon. Did it bring a sense of utter despair? Describe as fully as you can such an experience in yourself, your subjective feelings, how it grew, what caused and increased it, its physical symptoms, and all its after effects. What is wanted is a picture of a genuine and unforced fit or crisis of pure misery.[1]

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Letting Fall Grains of Sand or Pins into a Glass: Finding the Poetry of René Laennec at the Historical Medical Library

-by Wood Institute travel grantee Ligia Bouton*

I arrived in Philadelphia on a beautiful clear afternoon in October. After Hurricane Joaquin grazed the city a few days before, the buildings looked freshly washed and the light remained watery. I was in Philadelphia with the help of a Wood Institute Travel Grant from the College of Physicians to facilitate research toward my current creative project, “The Cage Went in Search of a Bird.” This project explores how tuberculosis captured America’s collective cultural imagination during the 19th century, creating an image of an illness that affected both the body and the spirit. I hoped to find texts in the Historical Medical Library focused on the treatment of the disease in the 19th century and then explore any breathing devices or other medical apparatus developed to treat tuberculosis that was housed in the Mütter Museum’s collections.

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