“We rarely get people who just acciden- tally show up,” Lisa Mix, Weill Cornell Medicine’s head archivist, says with a chuckle, “because you have to make a
real effort to get here.” Located on the twenty-fifth floor
of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell’s Baker Tower—
and accessible only by a human-operated, limited access
elevator—the archives are the repository of Weill Cornell
Medicine’s history. Supported by NewYork-Presbyterian
and WCM, they contain more than 7,100 linear feet
of materials—primarily documents but also videos,
sound recordings, physical objects, and an estimated
20,000 photographs covering the Medical College, the
Medical Center, and antecedent institutions such as
the Bloomingdale Asylum and the Lying-In Hospital.
The facility attracts researchers and scholars from both
within and outside the institution, and its materials have
been used in such projects as a PBS documentary on the
1918 influenza pandemic and Ken Burns’s Cancer: The
Emperor of All Maladies.
Among the archives’ most intriguing holdings are hospital casebooks containing handwritten patient records
dating from 1808 to 1932. They’re the focus of a current
project by Curtis Cole, MD ’94, WCM’s chief information officer, who received a $50,000 grant from the Frank
Naeymi-Rad and Theresa A. Kepic Foundation to scan the
pages for the purposes of research and preservation. Cole
is also overseeing an effort by a computer science master’s
student at Cornell Tech to develop methods of machine-learning to transcribe the records into searchable text.
“You learn a lot of medicine by transcribing an old medical record,” Cole observes. “The ways that doctors view
patients and how they conceptualize a case haven’t
changed—and even much of the diagnosis is still the
same.” Other gems include the archives’ oldest item: the
charter from England’s King George III that established
New York Hospital in 1771.
Part of WCM’s Samuel J. Wood Library, the archives
are also home to the collected papers of numerous WCM
researchers, chronicling their decades of discovery. The
following pages showcase a sampling of those holdings,
documenting work in fields from cancer to automotive
safety. “The archives are a very special place,” says Cole.
“It really is the crown jewel of the library.” ›
The Medical Center Archives are home to thousands of historical photos,
research papers, centuries-old patient records, and much more
BY BETH SAULNIER
VINTAGE VIEW: Pages from a nineteenth-century casebook, preserved in the
archives. Right: From the collected papers of automotive safety pioneer Hugh
De Haven, a photo of an early crash-test dummy.