In Memoriam – Professor Kenneth Arrow

Post contributed by Sara Seten Berghausen, Associate Curator of Collections

1972 telegram from Stockholm notifying Arrow that he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel-winning economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, passed away last week at the age of 95. Arrow’s work had an impact not only in economics, but was influential in fields across the social sciences.

His extensive research, teaching and activism are documented in the Economists’ Papers Archive in Rubenstein Library, where Arrow’s professional papers are preserved and made available to researchers. His papers are some of the Archive’s most heavily used, and Arrow was always very responsive to researchers’ questions and supportive of their work.

 

 

An assignment completed by Arrow in fall 1939 in his Philosophy of Mathematics course

 

The Arrow papers document his work from his years as an undergraduate at City College of New York in late 1930s, through his graduate work at Columbia and the publication of his landmark book Social Choice and Individual Values in 1951, and includes research notes and extensive correspondence with other scholars from his later work in equilibrium theory, welfare theory, and as an advocate for addressing the hazards of global warming.

 

 

Beef & Okra Gumbo (1957) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

Throwing a Mardi Gras-themed party this weekend? Then check out this gumbo recipe!

New Orleans Carnival season is in full swing with Mardi Gras fast approaching. My Twitter feed is full of images of brightly clad parade goers and heaps of dazzling beads. Scrolling through my feed the other day, nostalgia overwhelmed me. I had been missing New Orleans, the subject of my dissertation research. In that moment, I wanted one thing: gumbo.

With a goal to kick off the Rubenstein Test Kitchen in 2017, I thought I could make gumbo from a historic recipe, satiating my emotional need for it while also sharing my passion for the dish with wider audiences. There was one flaw in my plan, though. I had already written a blog post for the Devil’s Tale on Shrimp Gumbo Filé. As I pointed out in that post, however, New Orleans-style gumbo is anything but formulaic and reflects the complexity of New Orleans’ Creole food culture. There were an infinite number of combinations that I could draw upon to make a gumbo dish that would look nothing like the one I had made a few years ago.

So, I set out to look for a gumbo recipe that stood in contrast to the meaty seafood stew I had previously made from the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (1916). Whereas I tend to gravitate towards roux-based stews with chicken, ham, and seafood, I knew that there were entirely different gumbo traditions—ones that drew upon ingredients that I have never tried in my gumbos.

Ladies Home Journal (1957). David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I found just the recipe I was looking for in an article published in a 1957 issue of Ladies Home Journal. This was a beef-based stew with tomatoes and okra, among other unfamiliar gumbo ingredients like basil and oregano. The recipe came from an article titled, “Main Dishes with a Southern Accent,” written by Dorothy James, a native New Orleanian.

Okra Gumbo

Buy 2 pounds of either stewing beef or veal cut into 1” cubes. Put in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven along with 2 cups water, 2 cups chopped onion, ¾ cup chopped green pepper, ¾ cup chopped celery, 2 cloves garlic, crushed. Season with 1½  teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons gumbo filé, 1 teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon basil, ½ teaspoon orégano, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and a dash of crushed red-pepper flakes. Gumbo filé is innate to gumbo as far as Southern cooks are concerned, but it is not generally available in the North. It may be omitted, in which case add a little more red pepper and herbs. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Separate the meat from the broth and set both aside. Make a brown roux with ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup bacon drippings. Add the broth, 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered, and 1 cup tomato sauce. Cover and cook until the sauce is well blended. Then add the meat, cover again, and simmer gently about 45 minutes longer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Wash and trim 1½ pounds fresh okra. Then cut into ½” pieces—there will be about 3 cups. (You can use two 10-ounce packages of frozen okra). Add to the gumbo and cook another 20-30 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Serve with rice. Makes 6 servings.

The final product was incredibly tasty. The gumbo, which had three kinds of thickener (filé powder, roux, and okra slime), had a decadent, creamy texture. The tomato was not overwhelming and provided a tangy, sweet undercurrent that blended nicely with the kick of the red pepper flakes. I had to add a bit more salt to balance the flavors in the dish to my liking. Overall, it was a satisfying meal that showcased both beef and okra beautifully.

As is the case with any recipe, there are tips, tricks, and “trade secrets” that are regularly left out. I’ve added some notes to help create the most flavor-packed gumbo possible.

I purchased a fatty beef brisket from the local grocery store. The more fat in the meat, the more flavorful the stock. I also patted my beef try with a paper towel (thanks for the tip, Julia Child) and browned it in 2 tablespoons of oil to start a nice faun on the bottom of the pan. After a few minutes, I pulled the beef out, added a bit more oil to the pan, and sautéed my vegetables for 5 minutes. Then, I added the beef back in along with the water and spices. I added an extra cup of water so that the beef was almost completely covered.

After letting the stew simmer for an hour, I separated the beef and broth, trimming the extra fat off the beef once the meat had cooled. In the meantime, I washed out my cast iron pot and prepped to make a roux, the base of most Creole stews. For a detailed lesson on how to make a roux, see my previous blog post on gumbo. This time, I decided to make a quick roux, in ten minutes or less. I heated up equal parts oil and fat over medium-high heat and stirred constantly. My roux went from butter yellow to Hershey’s chocolate bar brown in about 9 minutes. I poured the broth back in and then added the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and eventually the beef (watch for splatter from the hot roux).

Finally, I added in the okra, and allowed the gumbo to simmer for another 30 minutes, while I prepared rice.

Voila!

Looking at Jay Anderson’s Historical Photos of Duke

Post contributed by Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

The University Archives recently completed processing of the Jay Carl Anderson Photographs and Papers, a collection with many images of Duke’s campus, students, and athletic events, as well as politicians, scenes of Durham and elsewhere in North Carolina, and many other locations and subjects, mostly dating from the 1970s and 1980s. The collection is a rich new resource for researchers interested in Blue Devils men’s basketball, student life, campus protests, the city of Durham, political campaigning in NC, and photojournalism, and it offers many beautiful and fascinating new views of familiar subjects.

East Campus pavilion, circa 1980
East Campus pavilion, circa 1980

Jay Anderson was a native of New York State who enrolled at Duke in 1974. He first published a photograph in his local newspaper at 16, and by the time he was a Duke student he was working as a freelance photographer submitting images to the New York Times. He took pictures for the Chronicle and then became involved with the Chanticleer, serving as editor for the 1978 Chanticleer during his senior year. He photographed many aspects of life at Duke, taking pictures of students, classes, events, and scenes on campus, as well as representing life off campus, snapping pictures of life in the surrounding neighborhoods, downtown Durham, and elsewhere in the Triangle. He also traveled, spending about six months in Europe and going as far east as Moscow, photographing life in the Soviet Union in 1977. He brought many of these images back to the Duke community, publishing spreads in the Chronicle and showing his work in exhibits and contests.

A 1975 issue of the Chronicle featuring Anderson’s images of people in Durham.
A 1975 issue of the Chronicle featuring Anderson’s images of people in Durham.

Anderson also photographed political persons and events, attending and photographing the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City and capturing presidential candidates and politicians, both on and off the campaign trail.

Jimmy Carter at a 1976 Presidential Debate on the campus of the College of William and Mary.
Jimmy Carter at a 1976 Presidential Debate on the campus of the College of William and Mary.

A resident of Pegram dormitory, he took a number of photos of friends and residents. New to Durham and the South when he arrived at Duke, he took an interest in life off campus and in the surrounding areas, including residents in nearby neighborhoods, events downtown, and the State Fair in Raleigh. He documented campus protests and performances, including visits from celebrities and politicians. And he lovingly captured athletics, particularly men’s basketball, capturing many of the players and fans mid-action.

UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke Men's Basketball Game, January 1978.
UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke Men’s Basketball Game, January 14, 1978.

 

Johnny Dawkins, Colorado vs. Duke Men's Basketball Game, December 21, 1983.
Johnny Dawkins, Colorado vs. Duke Men’s Basketball Game, December 21, 1983.

Many of the images are not labeled or identified, or have only general topical labels. As with many photographic collections, identifying information can sometimes be found in the image itself. Anderson also kept copies of many publications featuring his work, which include additional description.

1980 Duke/UNC basketball game, image submitted to New York Times.
1980 Duke/UNC basketball game, image submitted to New York Times.

After graduation, Jay Anderson remained in Durham for many years, and continued to photograph Duke events, particularly men’s basketball, and he remained involved with the Chanticleer for several years. He became the official photographer for the American Dance Festival and worked as a freelance photographer for a variety of publications as well as for private commercial work (his ADF photographs can be found in the Jay Anderson Papers in the American Dance Festival Archives, also housed here at Duke).

We’re excited to make this collection available to researchers. For anyone with an interest in Duke, politics, photography, or any number of related topics, the Jay Carl Anderson Photographs and Papers offers a lot to explore.

Pioneering African-American Women in the Advertising Business, Biographies of MAD Black WOMEN

Date: Wednesday February 22
Time: 3:30 to 4:30 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153
Optional Facebook RSVP

Dr. Judy Foster Davis of Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business will present on her research into the history of African-American women who have worked in the advertising industry. She has recently published a new book on this topic,  Pioneering African-American Women in the Advertising Business, Biographies of MAD Black WOMENHer research focuses on marketing communications strategies and policies in corporate and entrepreneurial settings and historical and multicultural marketing topics. This event is part of the Hartman Center’s 25th Anniversary lecture series focusing on women in advertising and is co-sponsored by the Baldwin Scholars and African & African American Studies.

Research-a-Palooza 2017 Round-Up

On January 6, we invited our colleagues across the Duke University Libraries to come to the Rubenstein Library and explore our collections. Of course they (and anyone else) are welcome to come do research at anytime, but sometimes it’s fun to bring some conviviality to our reading room. Check out what our colleagues looked at – they have such good taste!

Winston Atkins – Preservation Officer
I used the Frank Clyde Brown Papers, General Editors’ Papers Series. In the process of editing Brown’s massive collection of North Carolina folklore for publication, the two associate editors who focused on ballads and folk songs chose not to publish about 25 percent of the collection’s music. I’m curious about the characteristics that led them to exclude a song. Naturally, they would want to omit songs that were under copyright, but even so, ambiguity existed. In 1954, one of the associate editors, A. P. Hudson, sent the Duke University Press the first of five checks for $50 to reimburse them for a reprint fee paid to Shapiro, Bernstein, & Co., a music publishing house. Hudson’s recently-published volumes had included songs that had begun as folk songs but unhappily, versions of these songs were under copyright. “I simply did not believe that any one would object to our publishing, without music, the somewhat garbled traditional texts of a lot of pieces that began as all folk songs do.” No word on whether the Press accepted the check.

Amy McDonald – Assistant University Archivist
I spent a little of my research time browsing through a curious scrapbook in the papers of Braxton Craven (considered Duke’s second president, he led the institution from 1842 to 1863 and then from 1866 to 1882). It contains sentimental and moralizing love stories clipped from newspapers and magazines. Many of the stories are accompanied by handwritten summaries of their key lessons; you can see examples of these words to live by on the Rubenstein’s Tumblr.

I’m not entirely certain who kept the scrapbook (Braxton Craven himself? A family member?)—but lest you think that this guy doesn’t look susceptible to this sort of story, let me remind you that one of his claims to fame is as the author of “Naomi Wise: Or, The Wrongs of a Beautiful Girl,” the story of a Randolph County, NC murder that became the basis for the oldest known American murder ballad.

Research-a-palooza time was nearly up when I came to a story with a truly great title (photo at right). I didn’t get a chance to read it (saving something for the next research-a-palooza!), but I’m sure Amy’s revenge was suitably epic.

Hannah Rozear – Librarian for Instructional Services
During Rubenstein Library’s Research-a-Palooza I looked at 1930s issues of a student literary magazine called, The Archive. I chose this item because I knew that a student activist and leader of Duke’s American Student Union, Sheldon Harte ‘37, was an editor for The Archive and I was curious to see what kinds of essays he’d contributed. I did find a piece of his he wrote called, “Red is Symbolic of Kay,” – which was a really interesting find because it’s a short allegory that Sheldon wrote about communism. After graduating from Duke, Sheldon moved to Mexico City where he became a bodyguard for Trotsky and, tragically, was kidnapped, tortured, and killed by enemies of Trotsky in the summer of 1940 (see Duke magazine article for details).

Megan O’Connell – Research Services Assistant, Rubenstein Library
Having been around during the tail end of the Cold War amid national fears of nuclear attack, I was curious to see how these concerns had been addressed on college campuses such as Duke. Duke’s Fallout Preparedness Committee worked in the 1960s to evaluate the readiness of the University and community for a nuclear attack, assess existing infrastructure, build fallout-shelter infrastructure, and establish plans for emergency actions. From their reports, I learned that the Perkins library building is a superior shelter due to our sub-basements and thick stone walls; that early plans detailing which faculty and staff would shelter in the library neglected to include the Library staff (!); and that people sheltering for extended periods were to be offered sedatives and shuffleboard.

Kelly Wooten – Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture
I requested the Sarah Bowdich Lee manuscript on African history and geography from the 1830s to take a look since I had come across it in the catalog by chance. We have a collection of digitized women’s travel diaries, so I was curious about whether it might be a fit for that. In reviewing it, I felt empathy for undergraduates and other researchers who struggle with cursive writing—it was legible but difficult to skim. Though it is intended as scientific and based on observations, the colonialist tone towards the people and cultures she encountered in Africa were apparent from page one.

After setting the Lee manuscript aside, I poached a box of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines from the shelf on hold for my colleague Kate Collins who will be leading a class on Mystery Fiction. I am a huge fan of shows like Murder, She Wrote and book series like the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French, so I couldn’t resist. The covers were all pulp style illustrations, so I ended up browsing through the entire box rather than settling on a Dashiell Hammett short story to read.

Aaron Welborn – Director of Communications
If Research-a-Palooza was a contest, Aaron definitely would have won. He and his wife looked at more than 10 books and archival collections. Here some of highlights from what they saw:

Papyrus fragment (P.Duk.inv. 756), containing a bit of Book 4 from Herodotus’s Histories

I had just finished reading Ryszard Kapuściński’s Travels with Herodotus, a beautiful, meditative book about his many decades as a foreign correspondent for the Polish Press Agency. Throughout his travels, Kapuściński took along a copy of Herodotus’s Histories, and he interweaves his own stories of covering political coups, civil wars, and repressive regimes with interludes from the 5th-century BC historian. The stories in that ancient text become a kind of lens through which to see the ongoing, seemingly eternal struggle of East vs. West, as well as the craft of writing history. The history of the ancient world has been passed down to us in bits and fragments, and it’s amazing that any of it survived. So I wanted to lay my eyes on one of those fragments and see it up close and in person. It was really cool.

Andrew Jackson Papers from the Harry L. and Mary K. Dalton Collection
There have been a lot of comparisons in the press lately between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. Some people have this romantic vision of Jackson as an “American lion” who had an almost mystical connection with the masses and who bent the arc of history to his will. But it’s also worth remembering that Jackson was a genocidal demagogue with an unwavering commitment to slavery. The papers in this collection contain interesting glimpses of relations between the U.S. government and the Creeks, Cherokee, and Seminoles, who Jackson ultimately expelled from their own lands in one of the most shameful episodes of American history. Plus ça change…

Various Whitmaniana, including his corrected versions of “Songs of Myself” and two locks of his hair.
I’ve always heard about our Whitman stuff, but I’ve never actually taken the time to look at any of it. There is SO MUCH to peruse! His handwritten corrections to “Song of Myself” are fascinating in particular and reveal a messy, restless mind that was always revising, always trying out new turns of phrase. On one page, you can see where a drop of blood stained the paper, and Whitman has pointed to it and written “Inspiration!” As for the hair, I just wanted to see it because I could.

Dreamers & Dissenters: Women’s Marches, The Long View

Post submitted by Jennifer Scott, Public Services Intern, and Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

This is the first post in a series entitled Dreamers & Dissenters, in which we will highlight Rubenstein Library collections that document the work of activists and social justice organizations. In this series we hope to lend our voices, and those of the people whose collections we preserve, to the reinvigorated spirit of activism across the United States and beyond.

Drawing by Robin Morgan, ca. 1968. From the Robin Morgan Papers

On Saturday, January 21st, 2017 massive demonstrations took place in over 670 cities in the United States and throughout the world in one of the largest displays of global protest in modern history. A tweet by Kera Lovell about a week before the Marches caught the attention of the Bingham Center. Lovell, an American Studies scholar at Purdue University, drew a connection between a Huffington Post article about the posters being created for the upcoming Women’s March on Washington and the imagery of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s captured in the Sallie Bingham Center’s digital collection, Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture. The collection includes documentation of the protest of the 1968 Miss America Pageant, the first major U.S. women’s movement protest to attract national media attention. The protest was also the beginning of the woman symbol-with-fist image, which was drawn by co-organizer Robin Morgan for the occasion. Morgan was inspired in part by the Black Power movement’s clenched black fist that emerged in the late 1960s—as well as the Columbia University demonstrations at the same time—suggesting synergies between the movements.

Lovell’s comparison took on even greater significance when Saturday, January 21st arrived, as demonstrations unfolded in every U.S. state and on every continent. A striking pattern emerged in both handmade and professionally printed signs across the globe. The woman symbol-with-fist popped up on signs, shirts, buttons, and more in far-flung marches from Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA and beyond. Organizations and websites such as CBC/Radio-Canada even offered DIY sign templates featuring glittering variations of the symbol to take to the marches. A symbol that debuted for around 400 women in 1968 was now being seen and shared by millions of women, men, and children in what might be the single largest day of demonstration in United States history, according to Erica Chenoweth, professor of international relations at the University of Denver.

Women’s March in Raleigh, January 21, 2017. Accessed from http://www.wral.com/organizers-estimate-17-000-gather-in-raleigh-for-women-s-march/16456580/ on January 26, 2017

What inspired these protesters? The organizers of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington declared that its mission was to “stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” Their website offers the list of “Unity Principles” that guided the March, including ending violence and upholding reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice. More than 500 organizations and groups from all over the country joined the March.

Institutions across the country have rushed to document and analyze the marches, from preserving abandoned protest signs to creating programs exploring the movements emerging from the marches. The Sallie Bingham Center, home of the Robin Morgan Papers and the now-even-more iconic woman symbol-with-fist, remains dedicated to documenting and providing access to women throughout history, from those who marched for women’s rights in Atlantic City in 1968 to those who marched throughout the world on January 21, 2107.

On Monday, February 6th at 11:45 a.m., the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke will host “Women’s March: The Long View,” a wide-ranging panel discussion with Duke University scholars Laura Micham, Jocelyn Olcott, Deondra Rose, and Ara Wilson. The panel will discuss the place of the event within longer histories of feminist organizing, the cultural and symbolic politics at play in the march, its broader political and policy implications, and the possible futures of the movement. Optional Facebook RSVP.

2017 Visiting Filmmaker: Carlos Sandoval

2017 Visiting Filmmaker: Carlos Sandoval

Reception & Public Conversation with Sandoval & Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel

March 2, 5:00-7:00 pm, Conversation begins at 5:30pm

Rubenstein Library, Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room,

First Floor, Room 153 | Directions to the Rubenstein Library | Map

 

In March 2017, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library will welcome Carlos Sandoval as the fourth Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker. Named in honor of Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a prolific author, interviewer, curator, and champion of the arts, this program provides an opportunity for internationally recognized filmmakers to interact with students and the public through a variety of programming including lectures, conversations, screenings.

Carlos Sandoval’s films include The State of Arizona (with Catherine Tambini, Independent Lens 2014, Emmy Nomination, CINE Golden Eagle), A Class Apart (with Peter Miller, American Experience 2009, Imagen Award, optioned by Eva Longoria) and Farmingville (with Catherine Tambini, P.O.V. 2004, Sundance Special Jury Prize).

A writer and sometime lawyer, Sandoval’s essays have appeared in several publications, including The New York Times. Sandoval worked on immigration and refugee affairs as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, and as a program officer for The Century Foundation. He is a Sundance and MacArthur Fellow and an advisor for Firelight Media. Sandoval is currently Co-Executive Director of Next Generation Leadership, a professional development diversity fellowship funded by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and produced by WGBH and The Partnership, Inc. Of Mexican American and Puerto Rican descent, Sandoval grew up in Southern California and is a graduate of Harvard College and of the University of Chicago School of Law.

Sandoval will be in residence at Duke March 2 & 3.  During this time, Sandoval  will meet with scholars, students and staff.

The public conversation on March 2 is free and open to the public and made possible through the generous support of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.

Strong People: SNCC and the Southwest Georgia Movement

Strong People: SNCC and the Southwest Georgia Movement

Saturday, February 4, 2017

5:00PM

Great Hall, North Carolina Central University School of Law

Please join us for a conversation with five veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in Southwest Georgia. In 1961, field secretaries from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee (SNCC) came to Albany, GA to begin orgainzing around voting rights. Born in Southwest, Georgia, Janie Cuthbert Rambeau, Annette Jones White and Shirley Sherrod joined SNCC’s work and helped build what became an ongoing and locally-sustained movement for justice. Together with northern SNCC staff, Faith Holseart and Larry Rubin, these young activist played a critical role in SNCC’s organizing efforts in the Southwest Georgia region. Participants in this panel will discuss each of their experiences in the Movement and reflect on what made the movemnt in Southwest Georgia so strong. Charlie Cobb, a fellow SNCC organizer, will facilitate the conversation.

From the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection: Perkins’s Tractors

Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, the Josiah Charles Trent Intern in the History of Medicine Collections.

Given its designation as the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, you might assume, correctly, that the library’s History of Medicine Collections consist primarily of books and manuscripts, but did you know that they also boast a large collection of historical medical instruments and artifacts? Some of these objects are reassuringly familiar. Others, however, can seem somewhat more baffling.

Perkins’s Tractors. History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s. History of Medicine Collections.
Perkins’s Tractors. History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s. History of Medicine Collections.

Take, for instance, the objects identified in the collection guide as “Perkins’s tractors.” At first glance, they are often mistaken for horseshoe nails. Historian James Delbourgo, who has written extensively about these so-called tractors, notes that they “were disarmingly simple things. A set consisted of two three-inch metallic rods made of brass and iron, and they sold for twenty-five continental dollars in North America, five guineas in Britain.”[1] According to Delbourgo, their very simplicity was what made the tractors so appealing.[2] At a time when doctors regularly resorted to such “heroic” measures as bleeding, blistering, vomiting, and purging, Perkins’s tractors offered a painless alternative, one that was less invasive but no less controversial.

The man behind these seemingly strange instruments was one Elisha Perkins of Connecticut. Born in 1741, Perkins received his medical training from his father, a physician in Norwich, before establishing his own practice in Plainfield. There, in the course of his practice, Perkins “discovered that, by drawing over the parts [of the body] affected in particular directions certain instruments which he formed from metallic substances into certain shapes, he could remove . . . most kinds of painful topical affections, which came under his care and observation.”[3]

Perkins, it turns out, was quite the salesman. In 1796, he patented his tractors. Thereafter, Perkins and his son took to promoting them. Together, they published a series of pamphlets touting the tractors’ efficacy. These pamphlets invariably included testimonials from satisfied clients. Prominent among them were Jedidiah Morse, a Congregational minister; John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; and Josiah Meigs, professor of natural philosophy at Yale.[4] Even George Washington himself is reputed to have owned a set.[5]

Like other novel medical therapies, such as Galvanism and Mesmerism, Perkins’s were the subject of much popular attention, not all of it positive. Most regular physicians were skeptical of Perkins’s claims, so much so that in May of 1797, the Connecticut Medical Society expelled Perkins on grounds of quackery. Still other physicians sought to make sense of the tractors’ mysterious workings.

One such account can be found among the Benjamin Waterhouse papers. In a letter dated February 1, 1802, Abijah Richardson, a physician in Medway, Massachusetts, wrote to Benjamin Waterhouse, then a professor of medicine at Harvard, relating “an account of a Young Lady’s Case, who was relieved of a painful disorder by the use of a Metelic tractor.”[6] In 1796, Richardson explained, he had been “called in to see Miss P.T. about eighteen years of age” who for several years “had been subjected to fits of the head-ach.”[7] Having heard of Perkins’s tractors “being efficacious in relieving painful disorders,” Richardson decided to put the tractors to the test.

Abijah Richardson to Benjamin Waterhouse. 1 February 1802. Box 1, Folder 2, Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1782-1841. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Abijah Richardson to Benjamin Waterhouse. 1 February 1802. Box 1, Folder 2, Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1782-1841. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (Click image to enlarge!)

Without access, however, to a real set of tractors—he apparently did not have a set of his own—Richardson offered up “an artificial magnet which I supposed was of similar efficacy with the points.”[8] After obtaining his patient’s consent, Richardson proceeded to draw “light parallel strokes from the temple & forehead above the right eye down to her neck & top of her shoulder.”[9] Richardson here followed the method laid out by Perkins himself of “drawing the Points of the Tractors over the Parts affected, and continuing them along on the Skin to a considerable Distance from the Complaint, usually towards the Extremities.”[10] Richardson went on to recount how, in the course of her treatment, his patient’s pain, following the strokes of the tractors, “gradually abated & left her.”[11] From this, Richardson “was led to suppose that the tractors relieved pain by attracting & conveying heat from the pained part.”[12]

Title page to John Haygarth’s experiment involving Perkins’s tractors.
Title page to John Haygarth’s experiment involving Perkins’s tractors.

In 1800, John Haygarth, a physician in Bath, England, published the results of an experiment that cast doubt on the tractors’ efficacy. In 1799, having “contrived two wooden Tractors of nearly the same shape as the metallick, and paints to resemble them in colour,” Haygarth set out to test whether these “fictitious tractors” could produce the same effect as “the true metalliack Tractors of Perkins.”[13]

Much to his surprise, both sets of tractors “were employed exactly in like manner, and with similar effects,” leading Haygarth to conclude that the “whole effect undoubtedly depends upon the impression which can be made upon the patient’s Imagination.”[14] Haygarth’s experiment was one of the first documented demonstrations of what later came to be known as the placebo effect.

Despite their critics, Perkins’s tractors continued to be commercially successful, even after the death of their inventor in 1799. They even went on to become the subject of a poem satirizing the medical profession.

To explore these and other items from the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection, check out the collection guide, which contains descriptions and images for many of the items. Also, stop by the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room at the Rubenstein Library to see a rotating selection of items from the collection on permanent exhibit.

Footnotes:

[1] James Delbourgo, A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 240.

[2] Ibid., 251.

[3] Benjamin Douglas Perkins, The Influence of Metallic Tractors on the Human Body (London, 1798), 5-6.

[4] Ibid., 69, 9, 37.

[5] Ibid., 9.

[6] Abijah Richardson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1 February 1802, Box 1, Folder 2, Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1782-1841, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Benjamin Perkins, Directions for Performing the Metallic Operation with Perkins’s Patent Tractors [London, 1798].

[11] Richardson to Waterhouse, 1 February 1802.

[12] Ibid.

[13] John Haygarth, Of the Imagination, as a Cause and as a Cure of Disorders of the Body; Exemplified by Fictitious Tractors and Epidemical Convulsions (Bath, 1800), 3.

[14] Ibid., 3, 4.

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University