-Contributed by Elissa Rodkey.
The CHP has yet another York University intern on board! Elissa Rodkey, a doctoral student in York University’s History & Theory of Psychology program, shares her experience doing some detective work in the CHP Artifacts Collection!
In a corner of the otherwise tidy basement of the Center for the History of Psychology, there is a large pile of crumpled paper. As intern at the CHP, I am solely responsible for the creation and steady growth of this pile. Yet despite its messy appearance it is a sign of better order coming to the basement.
The paper is the result of processing apparatuses—it is the packing paper used in the boxes of the more than 200 instruments, apparatuses, and other artifacts that I have processed thus far. In 2010 the CHP moved locations and the psychological apparatuses that had previously been sitting open on shelves were packed up in boxes and deposited in the new building’s basement. But with the move went the organizational scheme—although the boxes were very carefully labeled with their original shelf location, these bore no relationship to their new shelf locations, making locating any given apparatus difficult. If a CHP staff member needed to find a particular apparatus, the best they could do was to wander through the shelves and look at the snapshots taped to the outside of the box. Since some of the boxes are stored 3 deep, this system was clearly less than ideal.
So my job while interning at CHP is to make this collection usable again: to match the apparatus with its data from the old database, and import it into the new database along with some pretty new photos, since the new database has the added benefit of allowing for the online display of collections. (You can admire the part of the apparatus collection I’ve entered here).
This is harder than it sounds. It’s not uncommon for me to find an apparatus with absolutely no identifying information to go on. That’s where my history of psychology background helps—I consult old apparatus catalogues and try a couple Google searches based on my hunches about what the apparatus might have been used for. But sometimes I’m just stumped.
For example I encountered a homemade 1’x 1’ wood box that had a carpeted interior and 2 lids with a hole in the middle, one hole with a wire mesh covering and an attached electrical wire. No identifying information was available. After thinking a bit about reasons for carpeting the inside of a box I speculated that it might be used in animal research. Had this box once held rats? I wondered, sniffing at the deteriorating carpet, desperate for any clue. But other than confirming that the carpet’s best days lay behind it, the carpet’s smell was giving nothing away, and I had to admit defeat and label the item “Unidentified Object.”
Any ideas about what this apparatus was actually used for? This box is actually one of my success stories—thanks to outside help I did eventually identify it! I’ll reveal the apparatus’ identity in tomorrow’s post; meanwhile you can post your best guess in the comments. Tomorrow I’ll also enlist your help in identifying ten items that still have me stumped, so do check back!
Be sure to check back tomorrow to learn more about the mystery object! You can browse the CHP Artifacts Collection online.