March 21, 2019

Nathalie Wheaton, from Rush University Medical Center Archives


Nathalie Wheaton depicted holding a time capsule recovered from the Daniel A. Jones Memorial Building, 1888, demolished in 2016.
Photograph courtesy of Rush Production Group.

This fourth installment of CCC's Member Spotlight series features an interview with Rush University Medical Center Archivist Nathalie Wheaton.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Rush University Medical Center Archives.

I have served as the archivist of Rush University Medical Center since 2014, and, previously, as assistant archivist, 2006-2012. As the sole archivist of Rush, I provide all archives-related services, including reference and donor services, records consultations, outreach initiatives, digital projects, and database and website management. To ensure these services are possible, I appraise, accession, arrange, describe and perform preservation tasks on the institutional collection, which consists of various formats, including digital assets. 

Outside of Rush, I am a Trustee of the Board of the Forest Park Public Library, a member of the Steering Committee of the Chicago Area Archivists, an administrator of the Chicago Area Medical Archivists, and a member of other related professional organizations. 

How did you become involved in the work of Chicago Collections?

As a long-time member of the Chicago Area Medical Archivists, I recall many meetings several years ago where we discussed the technological hurdles that seemed to stand in the way of our collaborative projects. Many of us hold collections of individuals and institutions that overlap historically, and we envisioned creating one place where researchers would be able to find these interconnected materials that resided at multiple institutions in Chicago. In practice, however, trying to implement such a project can be a challenging prospect.

So, when I first heard of the development of the Chicago Collections Consortium, I was thrilled. Here was the opportunity to help users find archival materials across the collections of many institutions in Chicago. I was excited for Rush to become a member of such a group, not only to increase awareness of the Rush Archives, but to make the CCC an even more strong, robust resource.

What are some of the interesting things your institution has on EXPLORE?

Currently, we’re working on expanding our photograph collection on EXPLORE. 

With a history going back to 1837, and the founding of Chicago, Rush has grown alongside the city, and we have many stories to tell. 

One of my favorite photographs in our collection on EXPLORE shows the students and faculty of Rush Medical College standing in the burned ruins of their building at Grand and Dearborn after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It’s incredible to me that someone thought to assemble everyone for that photo in the first place. It’s such an iconic shot and speaks to the resiliency of not only the Rush students and faculty, but Chicago itself. Their building was destroyed, yet they managed to rebuild and start fresh on the West Side of Chicago, where Rush still stands today. 

Which collections are you most looking forward to sharing on EXPLORE in the future?

The Rush Archives has many more photographs to share, so we will add more continuously over time. 

Aside from that, however, I’m excited to add more finding aids to EXPLORE, which will help researchers interested in the history of healthcare, health education, and research in Chicago dig a bit deeper into our very extensive records. We’re partnering with other Chicago medical archivists to create a guide through Chicago Collections that will help users navigate overlapping collections across institutions, explain affiliations, name changes, hospital or school closures, etc. It will serve as a very important resource not only for researchers but for us, too!

What are some of the ways you’ve used Chicago Collections or the EXPLORE portal in your job or while interacting with patrons?

The photograph collections on EXPLORE are so varied and of such fantastic quality, it’s almost impossible not to spend extra time simply browsing out of curiosity. What makes them such a rich resource are the careful descriptions archives staff have given the photographs to make them easier to find. With Rush’s long history, our schools, hospitals, faculty, staff, and alumni have had connections to so many other Chicago institutions, it’s incredible to look up names of places and people and find complementary photographs in other collections. Leading my researchers to the EXPLORE portal not only helps them find material for their projects, seeing the incredible diversity of material on the portal inspires new questions in them and helps shape their future projects.

What have you liked about EXPLORE?

I really appreciate the clean, easy-to-use interface of the portal. EXPLORE can be used in many different ways. If a researcher has a very specific topic of interest or search term, the rich metadata will bring up wonderful results they probably would not be able to find anywhere else. On the other hand, from the moment you visit the homepage, there are so many intriguing options for browsing by category, by neighborhood, major Chicago events… It’s a very fun, interesting way to spend a few hours even if you aren’t looking for anything specific! That’s what makes it so accessible for young people, students, and just casual users. You don’t need to have any sort of expertise to navigate the portal and get started. Just start clicking, and you’re bound to find something fascinating.