One Year after Marathon Bombings, Countway Library’s Digital Archive Commemorates Emergency Medical Response

UPDATED: April 16, 2014, at 2:28 p.m.

This is the second in a weeklong series of articles chronicling Harvard’s remembrance of the Boston Marathon Bombings that occured a year ago.

One year after emergency workers and medical personnel rushed to the finish line of the Boston Marathon to attend to the hundreds of runners and spectators at the site of the bombings, the Countway Library of Medicine is continuing its efforts to expand “Strong Medicine,” a digital archive that captures and compiles the stories of the bombing's emergency responders.

Originally conceived in the summer of 2013, the archive was made available to the public earlier in the spring, according to Scott H. Podolsky, director of the Center for the History of Medicine, a set of collections at Countway that hosts the archive.

The archive commemorates the efforts of hospital administrators, doctors, and emergency workers who mobilized in the wake of the fatal, unprecedented bombings, which injured hundreds and killed three. In addition, by centralizing narratives and information regarding Boston’s emergency response, the creators of the archive said that they hope that it will serve as a resource for historians and doctors alike.

Currently, the archive contains more than 30 oral histories of surgeons, hospital administrators, and directors of emergency departments who were involved in the emergency response, which many doctors and commentators have since lauded. The collection also includes several commemorative cards and posters that were created in the wake of the bombing.

“I think it’s really important to collect history as it’s happening so that people still remember the smaller details about what they were doing last year,” said Joan Ilacqua, the "Strong Medicine" project coordinator. “What we really want to do is make sure that we have a permanent record of that moment in Boston.”

Under the leadership of Ilacqua, four Boston-area graduate students have helped to collect materials and expand the archive.

One of these students, Miriam Rich, who has been interviewing medical professionals for the archive, said that the collection can serve both the general public and medical officials.

“[The archive] will help people appreciate and understand the level of coordination between different people and teams and institutions that need to work together in order for such a successful response to an emergency to happen,” said Rich, a graduate student in Harvard’s History of Science Department. “We can continue to repeat and improve on such a successful emergency response protocol.”

Similarly, Podolsky said that the archive represents an opportunity not only for remembrance but also for reflection on the quality of emergency response.

According to Podolsky, Countway was chosen as the location of the archive because it represents a partnership between the Boston Medical Library and Harvard Medical School. He said this collaboration has facilitated the collection of oral histories from hospitals and medical institutions across Boston.

Even though the archive has been open to the public for over a month, “Strong Medicine” is an ongoing project. Ilacqua said that she has been reaching out to institutions and individuals in an effort to collect stories and objects that reflect the response to the bombings.

“We’re still actively looking for people to give us their stories,” she said.

According to Rich, the project coordinators are seeking to expand the archive as to include the voices of people in non-leadership positions, like nurses and law enforcement personnel.

Emily Harrison '02, another graduate student in the History of Science Department who contributed to the project, said that the process of developing the archive not only provides an opportunity for future research but also offers a chance for reflection for both the Boston community and the archivists themselves.

“I think that the act of creating the archive is also an act of remembering and community-building,” she said. “It feels like a great privilege to get to work on this project and to talk with people who are so very open sharing their stories.”

—Staff writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at francesca.annicchiarico@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 9, 2014

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the department in which Miriam Rich and Emily Harrison are graduate students. In fact, they are in the History of Science Department.

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