Archival Detective Skills, Part 3

Closed “carry-on” deep-brain stereotaxy setThis is the third blog post in a four part series about the Department of Neurosurgery Records and issues archivists confront when accessioning collections. See the following links for Part 1Part 2, and Part 4.


Working in an archives is not all record keeping, typing, and organizing. Sometimes we get to fulfill childhood dreams of becoming a detective—an archives detective. Here at the Duke University Medical Center Archives, we bust out our extensive sleuthing skills when we need to identify materials, which most often are old medical artifacts that are no longer used; therefore, not easily identifiable.


In June, the Archives got the opportunity to conduct some in-depth detective work when we received the following archival materials from the Department of Neurosurgery: patient records, 16mm films documenting procedures, and a mysterious metal box. The items ranged in date from 1931 to 1981 and related to Dr. Guy Odam and Dr. Blaine Nashold’s work in neurosurgery at Duke. The mysterious metal box was an enigma. It was also an old medical artifact that closely resembled a suitcase. What was this old metal contraption?


Prior to accepting the materials, Archives staff asked if anyone in the Department of Neurosurgery knew what the metal case used to be, but no one seemed to know. Some faculty members believed it was a stereotactic kit but could not be certain. The inside lid of the case was inscribed with “F.L. Fischer, Freiburg i.Br-Berlin/Charl., Germany, D.B.G.M.” Inside the case was a jumble of medical instruments and a battery pack; furthermore; after looking at the number of instruments included it became clear that whatever the case was, it was only half-complete. This is where the detective work started. We had approximate dates of use; the manufacture’s name; and a good idea of what it might be courtesy of the Department of Neurosurgery, a stereotactic kit.Open “carry-on” deep-brain stereotaxy set


Now it was time for the Archives team to put our research skills to use. Lucy Waldrop, the Technical Services Head, sent a plea for help identifying the instrument to the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences listserv. While the Archives waited for replies from the listserv, I, an Archives Intern, tried to research if the Fischer Company was still around by calling the company Fischer Surgical Inc. hoping they would be able to help, only to discover the company did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, which was when we believed the instruments were manufactured. In doing this, I also discovered that they were not affiliated with the German Fischer company.


By nature, librarians and archivists are a helpful bunch, and a listserv member provided us with our best clue: that through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the Fischer Company was now part of Stryker Corporation, a medical equipment manufacturing company. I cold-called the company and described the problem. There was originally some confusion because the F.L. Fischer company was not listed as one of Stryker’s subsidiaries, but the woman I spoke with explained how F.L. Fischer became part of Leibinger GMBH, which Stryker later acquired (thank you Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences listserv!). I was transferred to a public relations specialist who requested images of the metal case. I forwarded those images on to her and waited to hear back. This was in June of this year.


In August the mystery was solved when the Archives received an email from Stryker informing us that our mysterious metal suitcase turned out to be a “carry-on” deep-brain stereotaxy set. We learned the case once contained a complete Riechert Mundinger cerebral stereotaxy frame, some related surgical components, and that the generator (battery) in the case was used for a light, although it is unclear how the light was applied during surgery.


The process to uncover the elusive identity of the mysterious metal box that came to the Archives via the Department of Neurosurgery let us put our research skills to the test. Working in an archive brings new surprises and challenges everyday as staff learn about new materials, which sometimes requires extensive background research and discussion with other archival professionals, or, in other words, becoming an archives detective.


And finally, if anyone else out there has any more information on the Riechert Mundinger cerebral stereotaxy frame and its components, please contact us!


To learn more about these materials, visit the finding aid or contact archives staff.


This blog post was contributed by Archives Intern Kahlee Leingang