It’s a bit hard for us to believe, but this week marks the fifth birthday of the Pauling Blog.
The blog was started in March 2008 with a couple of different ideas in mind. Most immediately, a stamp honoring Linus Pauling was soon to be released by the United States Postal Service and we (the OSU Libraries Special Collections at the time) wanted to get our hands on a mechanism for both promoting and covering the event.
More broadly, we had long felt a need for a space where we could conduct outreach and present research in a more flexible context than had previously been the case. Prior to the blog, Special Collections was able to present stories about Pauling mainly through our Documentary History website framework or through smaller TEI-based exhibits. Both platforms worked well (and continue to do so) but both also required a fair amount of time and energy to construct. Our website at the time included a News feature as well, but the audience for this was limited to those who happened across our department homepage, and by definition the tool was really only useful for announcements of newly released projects or upcoming events.
Once the stamp event had concluded, part of what we attempted to do with the blog was to tease out smaller stories from the massive documentary history websites that had been released up to Spring 2008. In effect, we viewed the documentary histories as collections unto themselves for student researchers to review and utilize in developing blog posts.
As such, were able to put together posts about, for example, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s trip to Lambaréné, Gabon in 1959 to visit Albert Schweitzer. The trip is touched upon in the Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement documentary history, but it is more fully explored on the blog, a platform which allows for greater investigation into the supporting documents available on the documentary history site but not discussed at length within the framework of the site narrative.
With time we pretty well exhausted the documentary-history-website-as-collection idea, so we moved on to more original research conducted specifically for release on the blog. (Not coincidentally, it is at about this time that we started posting once per week, rather than twice.) Doing so has allowed us to explore many more of the fascinating nooks and crannies residing within the monstrous Pauling archive. It has also provided a terrific experiential learning opportunity for our student writers.
For those who may have wondered, creating the Pauling Blog is a group project. The site is overseen by one of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center’s faculty, but most of the writing is generated by a talented cadre of students. In five years, at least twenty people have written posts for the blog, most of them undergraduate students. Our student writers have gone down many paths once leaving the Valley Library – dental and optometry school, public policy work, graduate studies in Spanish and even one person who decided to stick around the department and is now a vital part of our operations. Presently we have three student writers on staff – a graduate student in the history of science, a senior who plans to pursue further study in public history and a senior looking forward to a career as a midwife. All three are careful, tenacious researchers and will be tough to replace when they move on.
The student writers are assigned a topic, given tips on where in the collection to look for resources and then off they go. Their texts are completed well in advance of their posting, and before they go online they receive a thorough line edit from the faculty member in charge of the project. Since March 2008 they have compiled 408 posts, generally in the neighborhood of around 1,000 words in length. The sum of that work now comprises a significant resource for Pauling studies; one full of original research not deeply explored by any of Pauling’s biographers.
And they have attracted an audience: in 2012 the blog recorded over 110,000 views, a close to 30% increase over the previous year’s traffic. While the resource certainly has its regular followers, most of the traffic that hits the Pauling Blog arrives via search – with perhaps 410,000 words of searchable text inhabiting the web and over 1,100 images as well, there is plenty of content for people to stumble across.
It’s worth noting as well that, just as Pauling was truly a man of the world, so too is our’s an international audience. While the lion’s share of traffic is based stateside, in 2013 alone WordPress has recorded visitors from far flung locations including Mozambique, Benin, Laos and Djibouti.
Five years is a long time for a blog of this sort to keep chugging along, but we have no intention of going anywhere. The Pauling Papers are truly epic and the only limitations on this project, it would seem, are our own initiative and creativity. So keep expecting fresh content from this space, usually every Wednesday, except when meetings, email or the hectic pace of life in the reading room render Wednesdays unavailable.
We’ll close with a list. For readers who are relatively new to the blog, here are ten of our favorite posts from olden days, followed by a nugget about Pauling that we just discovered yesterday and feel that we have to share. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
10. Linus Pauling Baseball! (a perennial favorite)
8. Angry and Frustrated, Pauling Considers a Run for the U.S. Presidency (a short post about an extraordinary document)
7. Creating The Pauling Catalogue (a collection of technical pieces providing an overview of the work that resulted in a six-volume, 1,800 page reference work featuring over 1,100 illustrations)
6. A Halloween Tale of Ice Cream and Ethanol (a fun story and a revealing glimpse into Pauling’s powers of observation and description)
5. William P. Murphy: Condon’s Other Nobel Prize Winner (an amazing historical coincidence)
4. The Anesthesia series (one of our first forays into fairly extensive original research about a lesser known component of Pauling’s scientific research)
3. The Pauling Chalkboard series (another such foray)
2. Lawrence Badash, 1934-2010 (remembering a good man and the story of what almost was)
1. The Quasicrystals series (the most ambitious bit of research and writing that any of our students has ever taken on)
…and a nugget that made us smile. From the National Academy of Science biographical memoir of Wendell Phillips Woodring:
Woodring became professor of invertebrate paleontology at the California Institute of Technology in 1927. During his teaching years, he became a close friend of Chester Stock, professor of vertebrate paleontology, of Ralph Reed, who sharpened his knowledge of the geology of California, and of his own student, diatom specialist Kenneth Lohman. During this time, much to his great amusement in later years, he and his wife employed Linus Pauling, later two-time Nobel laureate, as an occasional baby sitter for his two daughters.