UCSF Archives & Special Collections awarded grant to archive data, documents, and social media of The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic

UCSF Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) has been awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to compile and archive the data products, public websites, social media, and select internal documents of The COVID Tracking Project (CTP). The project was a citizen-science initiative housed by The Atlantic magazine which tracked COVID data from March 7, 2020 to March 7, 2021. It had a tremendous impact on public, media, scientific, and governmental understanding of and response to the pandemic. This $249,866 grant will help preserve the products and culture of a unique organization created in difficult times.

Products produced by the CTP include testing, outcomes, and hospitalization data that was used by thousands of news organizations and millions of individuals to understand the early phases of the pandemic. The project’s Racial Data Tracker and Long-term Care Tracker highlighted the different ways the pandemic was impacting people of color and residents of nursing homes and similar facilities. Funding from the grant will help ensure these critical datasets are preserved in Dryad and immediately available to researchers in public health.

As an organization that existed only online, archiving the project will require new approaches to storing data from tools like Slack, Github issues, and Google drive. Unlike digital files similar to a Microsoft Word document, data in these tools have multiple levels of interface and context that is not easily preserved. The grant will support developing tools for archiving these rapidly-adopted forms of communication, and making them open source for other archiving projects.

Every datapoint collected by the project was the result of multiple discussions, revisions, and public inquiry. Capturing the entire history of say, the total number of tests in California on November 22, 2020 requires reviewing Slack threads, Github issues, emails, spreadsheet revisions, and unique tools built by tracking project members. The grant will help build a “Data Explorer” that pulls all these disparate metadata into a single web interface for researchers to understand the many contexts around every datapoint collected by the project.

“We’re extremely proud to support a digital preservation project capturing a remarkable record of online collaboration that also provides a unique blueprint for future archiving initiatives,” says Joshua Greenberg, director of the Sloan Foundation’s technology program. “The team is doing more than just creating a rich and valuable repository of a historic moment—it is generating novel and much-needed methods of storing information from modern technology platforms, an approach that will become invaluable as online collaborations increasingly become the norm.”

This 12-month project is being launched in January 2022 and will be overseen by an advisory board composed of former project staff and advisors with backgrounds in data science, medicine, history, and epidemiology. A&SC would like to thank Amanda L. French, Ph.D., former Community Lead at the COVID Tracking Project and other supporters for their help with this proposal. Kevin Miller will serve as an archive lead for this grant project

About the Sloan Foundation

Logo of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a not-for-profit, mission-driven grantmaking institution dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in four broad areas: direct support of research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics; initiatives to increase the quality, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research; and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

About UCSF Archives & Special Collections

The mission of the UCSF Archives and Special Collections is to identify, collect, organize, interpret, and maintain rare and unique material to support research and teaching of the health sciences and medical humanities and to preserve institutional memory. Please contact Polina Ilieva, Associate University Librarian for Collections with questions about this award.

Newly-digitized Phyllis Wrightson sketchbook documents creation of Toland Hall murals

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Archives is excited to provide access to the sketchbook of Phyllis Wrightson, which has been newly-digitized from within the Bernard Zakheim papers. Wrightson was Zakheim’s assistant during the painting of the frescoes inside UCSF’s Toland Hall, and the two later married. 

Photo of 4 people, from left to right: Joseph Allen, Phyllis Wrightson, Bernard Zakheim, and F. Stanley Durie
Phyllis Wrightson, second from left. (from L to R: Joseph Allen, Phyllis Wrightson, Bernard Zakheim, and F. Stanley Durie). Source: https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/81983/s9mw27/

The sketchbook contains fascinating detail of the historical research which went into the mural, and includes notes, clippings, and remarkable sketches made by Wrightson in preparation for the painting of the murals. Wrightson’s sketchbook is notable for the way it illuminates the immense amount of collaborative effort that went into creating a mural such as the Toland Hall frescoes, and documents the both the creative process and aesthetic decisions which were a part of the project. 


Find the sketchbook here: https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/81983/s9tg6g/.

The digitization of Wrightson’s notebook has been another fruitful collaboration between Archives and our colleagues in other Library departments, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. We would especially like to thank Andy Panado — Collections Analyst — for his work to create the digital files for this valuable resource.

Viewing Zakheim Murals at UCSF

As part of UCSF’s 150th anniversary celebration, the university has arranged special public viewing hours for the Zakheim murals through the spring:

Friday, March 13th:  4 – 7 p.m.
Friday, April 17th:  3 – 5 p.m.
Friday, May 22nd:  3 – 5 p.m.

Location:
Toland Hall on the UCSF Campus
533 Parnassus Ave., Room U-142
San Francisco, CA
Map of UCSF Parnassus Campus and Directions (printable PDF)

Recent article in San Francisco Chronicle highlights history of the Zakheim murals at UCSF.

Do you have questions or need additional information about public viewing?
Please contact UCSF Public Affairs: 415-476-2557

Recent Acquisition: Bernard Zakheim Collection

Ever since the Polish-born artist Bernard Zakheim painted a series of murals at UCSF in 1930s they remain the jewel of the University’s Art Collection. These murals include ten panel series in Toland Hall, “History of Medicine in California,” and two panels originally located in the Cole Hall and later moved to the Health Sciences West (HSW) lecture halls – “Modern Medicine” and “Ancient Medicine: Superstition in Medicine.” Zakheim worked with Diego Rivera in Mexico City and is best known for contributing the Library Periodical Room fresco and helping organize the New Deal art project at the Coit Tower in San Francisco. From the time of their unveiling, the archives has been compiling reference materials about these murals and now we are delighted to report that a comprehensive set of materials documenting how these frescoes were created and preserved was donated to UCSF (Bernard Zakheim collection, MSS 2014-15).

Viewing murals at Toland Hall at UCSF, left to right: F. Stanley Durie, Superintendent of UC Hospital, Dr. William E. Carter, Phyllis Wrightson, Joseph Allen, State Director of WPA Federal Art Project, Bernard Zakehim (ca. 1939)

Viewing murals at Toland Hall at UCSF, left to right: F. Stanley Durie, Superintendent of UC Hospital, Dr. William E. Carter, Phyllis Wrightson, Joseph Allen, State Director of WPA Federal Art Project, Bernard Zakehim (ca. 1939)

Last year I had the privilege to meet one of the sons of the artist who also helped restore the frescoes in 1970s when the wallpaper covering them for almost two decades was removed and the two panels were relocated from the original Cole Hall to HSW.

Artist Bernard Zakheim with his son Nathan Zakheim (1967)

Artist Bernard Zakheim with his son Nathan Zakheim (1967)

One of the biggest archives’ advocates, Dr. Robert Sherins (SOM, 1963) introduced me to Nathan Zakheim. Nathan, a talented art conservator based in Los Angeles, is the keeper of his father’s extensive archives and art collection. Last fall we met at his warehouse to review and pack the documents destined for UCSF.

The idea to commission murals was brought by Dr. Isabella Perry, professor of pathology after seeing the frescoes Zakheim painted at the Alemany Public Health Center and then spearheaded by Chauncey D.  Leake, professor of pharmacology and medical historian. The university murals undertaking which was partially funded by the WPA Federal Art Project and also sponsored by the university was a true collaborative effort between Zakheim’s team and UCSF faculty (including renowned UCSF doctors,  Chauncey D. Leake, George Lyman, Langley Porter, Salvatore P. Lucia, W. E. Carter, and F. W Lynch). The artist was provided unrestricted access to the Crummer Room containing numerous books on the history of medicine, including recently published “California’s Medical Story” by Dr. Henry Harris. Zakheim’s assistant, Phyllis Wrightson did extensive research about California medical history which becomes apparent in the sketchbook that she kept for the project. The instruments depicted by her on these pages are still preserved at the archives’ artifact collection and will be displayed as part of the 150th anniversary exhibit.

Drawings of surgical instruments from the UCSF collection for the panel devoted to Don Pedro Prat, surgeon of the Portolá expedition.

Drawings of surgical instruments from the UCSF collection for the panel devoted to Don Pedro Prat, surgeon of the Portolá expedition.

Surgeon Don Pedro Prat treats patient’s leg, James Ohio Pattie vaccinates Californians.

Surgeon Don Pedro Prat treats patient’s leg, James Ohio Pattie vaccinates Californians.

One of the sketches portrays fur trader James Ohio Pattie who was captured for illegal trapping in California and earned his release from Mexican imprisonment in San Diego by using the smallpox vaccine to curtail the epidemic spreading among Californians (that story based on the Pattie’s “Personal Narrative” was later proved to be inaccurate as it was measles epidemic* that occurred in Alta California at that time).

Bernard Zakheim at work, 1937

Bernard Zakheim at work, 1937

Drawing of James Ohio Pattie.

Drawing of James Ohio Pattie.

Bernard Zakheim and his team interviewed numerous faculty members who are depicted in the panel “Rational Medicine,” including Robert Stone, professor of radiology, Francis S. Smith, pediatrician and dean of the School of Medicine, Karl F. Meyer, director of the Hooper Foundation, anesthesiologist Arthur Guedel and Isabella Perry to name just a few.

Scaffoldings in the original Cole Hall (that was located at the School of Medicine building) set up while Bernard Zakheim was working on the panel “Rational Medicine.”

Scaffoldings in the original Cole Hall (that was located at the School of Medicine building) set up while Bernard Zakheim was working on the panel “Rational Medicine.”

We are grateful to the Zakheim family and in particular to Nathan Zakheim for donating this unique collection to the University. It will be organized and described in the next few months, selected slides and documents will be digitized and uploaded to the library website.
Are you interested in viewing the murals, but unable to visit San Francisco? Please check these two video recordings from the UCSF archives:
Dr. Robert Schindler (Chair emeritus of the UCSF Department of Otolaryngology) presents a video tour of the murals painted by Bernard Zakheim in Toland Hall at UCSF, 1996: https://archive.org/details/cum_00001
Toland Hall murals tour by Dr. Chauncey Leake, 1976: https://archive.org/details/cum_000015

We would also like to bring to your attention a manuscript put together by Dr. Sherins chronicling the life story and work of Bernard Zakheim that can be accessed on the Alumni Association website.


* Valle, Rosemary K. “James Ohio Pattie and the 1827-1828 Alta California Measles Epidemic.” California Historical Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Spring, 1973), pp. 28-36, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25157415.