In 1999 we hatched the crazy idea of trying to document every day of Linus Pauling’s professional life. Researchers were, at the time, honing in on a draft of the human genome, and our thinking was, if scientists can map the exact genetic details of human existence, why can’t we map the daily activities of Linus Pauling? So began the project now known as Linus Pauling-Day-by-Day.
Fast forward to this past Friday, and thirty years of the project have been completed. The Pauling Day-by-Day calendar now closely details Pauling’s every letter, manuscript, speech and travel itinerary for the years 1930-1959. It is plainly relentless in scope – in its current form, the site comprises over 23,000 static html pages and incorporates over 68,000 document summaries.
Bits and pieces of Linus Pauling Day-by-Day have been released over the past several years, usually in conjunction with the launching of a new Pauling-related Documentary History website. This latest iteration of the calendar, however, marks the first time that the project has been presented as a cohesive whole. The launch also includes a number of important new features.
Five More Years
The Day-by-Day site data now includes new event listings for the period 1955-1959. These were important years for Pauling in that he completed a tremendous amount of good work and also endured a tremendous amount of hardship for the outspoken political views that he had assumed since the close of World War II. In the late 1950s, Pauling published major work on the structure of silk fibroin, the nature of mental deficiency and the theory of anesthesia. During this time, he and Ava Helen also collected signatures for their famous United Nations Bomb Test Petition, visited Albert Schweitzer at his compound in French Equatorial Africa, and were excoriated for their activism on any number of occasions, including an infamous appearance on “Meet the Press.”
Pauling Day-by-Day now has a proper homepage and is key-word searchable (though, at the time of this writing, our search engine hasn’t quite completed indexing the site). Likewise, each year of the calendar has its own mini-homepage, featuring a full accounting of the Paulings’ travel for that year as well as an overview of the year’s activities as written by Pauling biographer Robert Paradowski. The navigation tools provided to move within and between years are also greatly improved.
Nearly 1,700 Illustrations
Possibly the most significant new addition is the incorporation of almost 1,700 digital objects used to illustrate each week of Pauling’s activities; or, in the case of 1954, his first Nobel year, each day. In prior calendar releases, only the first page of each illustration was made available. Now, the entirety of virtually every document scanned into the calendar is accessible to the user – the illustrations have been transformed from pictures (by definition) to true digital objects.
This key bit of functionality has afforded us great leeway in featuring items from the collection that would not normally have a logical home within our web presence. Naturally many of the more-expected components of Pauling’s biography are illustrated: his passport problems, his first Nobel trip to Stockholm, his administration of ambitious programs of scientific research. That said, we are now able to incorporate items that are, perhaps, a little bit on the unexpected side. To name a few:
- Pauling’s proposed research on gout; an idea on desalinating ocean water using atomic energy; a well-researched complaint about the water pressure in his home.
- A meeting with Albert Einstein; suspicions about the advertising claims being made by Canada Dry; quibbles with American Tourister about the design of his and Ava Helen’s new luggage.
- Got a broken bone? Consider gluing it back together.
- Interested in cute baby pictures? We have those too.
Almost 2,000 Full-Text Transcripts
Another exciting component of this version of Pauling Day-by-Day is our incorporation of a massive cache of full-text correspondence and manuscripts transcripts. Every 1930-1959 letter ever digitized by the OSU Libraries Special Collections is included, as are many of the letters written between Linus Pauling, Ava Helen Pauling and their children.
We are also able to stumble across important historical fragments as they played out in real time. Consider this item, the manuscript that Pauling used to accept the William H. Nichols Medal from the New York Section of the American Chemical Society. (the transcript is here) In the opening paragraphs of his talk, Pauling notes
I am happy also that this occasion has brought me in touch with many old friends – with Paul Emmett and Joe Mayer and many others. Several of them said to me tonight that I appeared to be getting fat. This is not so. You know, when I was a boy in Oregon I used to go around a great deal in the green, damp Oregon woods, and I always came into contact with poison oak, which caused my face to swell and my eyes to swell shut, and me to apply so much lead acetate solution that it is a wonder that I didn’t die of lead poisoning. Yesterday I must have bumped into something similar, for my face began to swell, and I began to be afraid that I would have to speak here tonight with my eyes swollen shut – which I could have done, with the practice I have had speaking in the dark.
The true nature of Pauling’s condition was, however, far more serious than poison oak. As Paradowski notes in his chronology
After the ceremonies, Linus and Ava Helen are at the apartment of Alfred Mirsky, and Dr. Alfred Cohn, a professor at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, learns of Pauling’s condition and asks to examine him. The next morning, Cohn and some other doctors, after performing various tests, diagnose glomerulonephritis, a renal disease characterized by the abrupt onset of facial edema and hypertension. They ask Pauling what he plans to do. Pauling replies that he intends to go to the Mayo Clinic where he is scheduled to give a memorial address. One of the doctors advises Pauling to cancel the speech and return to California, where he should get in touch with Dr. Thomas Addis in San Francisco, a specialist in the treatment of nephritis.
On March 10, Linus and Ava Helen return to Pasadena. He arranges to see Addis, and, within a short time, Addis begins treating him. (He later tells Pauling that it was extremely fortunate that he did not go to the Mayo Clinic, because the doctors there would have pumped him full of a natural polysaccharide, and his edema would have disappeared, but he would have been dead in a little while.) Pauling is put on a low-protein diet and takes various vitamins and liver extracts.
Interested readers are, naturally, able to follow the progression of Pauling’s return to health, a process documented by letters from Ava Helen to Dr. Addis as well as a full accounting of Linus’s meals during the early months of his combating the disease.
Calendars retracing the daily activities of important figures were once a relatively popular component of the archival discipline. With time the sheer labor involved in compiling these types of resources rendered them impractical for most Archives and Special Collections.
We, however, feel that Linus Pauling Day-by-Day is a worthwhile enterprise for at least a couple of reasons. For one, it gets used – the site has garnered well over 17 million pageviews since its first two years were released in 2003, and many of our reference requests are generated by content included in the project.
Perhaps more importantly, we view the Pauling Papers, at 4,400 linear feet, to be more than a collection of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s prodigious work ethic. Indeed, the archive is so vast and multifaceted that, in a very real sense, it serves as a unique documentation of large swaths of twentieth-century scientific, political and cultural history. By describing so much of the collection on the item-level, researchers are now able to trace lines of inquiry that often have little to do, specifically, with the Paulings’ work.
The successful release of a project of this size is clearly a testament to efficient technical processes. Check back with us next week when we’ll talk a bit more about how Linus Pauling Day-by-Day was created.