Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections
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Interactive Exhibition

1. Breathing machine

Machine as note-taker

Philip Drinker

Harvard Medical School, 1927-1928

Although a pioneer in public health research on the hazards of exposure to lead and dust, Philip Drinker is best remembered for his development of a machine to induce artificial respiration—the Drinker respirator, popularly known as the “Iron Lung”—which helped to save thousands of lives during the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 50s.

This is a leaf from Philip Drinker’s laboratory notebook chronicling his research with Louis Agassiz Shaw in artificial respiration. In this particular experiment, on September 26, 1927, Professor Drinker first demonstrates the safety and effectiveness of the respirator. He is also the subject of the experiment.

HOLLIS Catalog: 006194459
Philip Drinker, charts



Submitted by John Plotz (not verified) on

This reminds me of Meegan Kennedy's excellent work on the way that blood pressure records were thought of as a kind of writing in the 19th century. Perhaps it's worth spelling out in your description of this image how it is that what seems to be a direct machine-made printout ends up as an annotated portion of Drinker's notes? Were they designed to be written on this way, for instance?

ryanski1@aol.com's picture
Submitted by ryanski1@aol.com on

This style of note taking demonstrates the wonderful relationship that exists between man and machine; essentially Philip Drinker the author of these notes is taking responsibility for the data produced by the machine respirator he is experimenting with by explaining the meaning of data from his professional purview as the conductor of the experiment. The methodology Drinker's notes suggest that he uses when communicating the details about the "Iron Lung" experiment imply an informational, authoritative and certain tone that is attached to the promise of accurate information the machine's data illustrates.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

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