King Davis to Receive Benjamin Rush Award for Central State Hospital Archives Project

Sandlin, Anu  |  Feb 28, 2019

News Image: 
King Davis
Image Caption: 
King Davis
Benjamin Rush Award
King Davis
behavioral health
historical psychiatric records
Central State Hospital Archives Project

Texas iSchool Colleague and Research Professor King Davis was recently selected for the Benjamin Rush Award from the American Psychiatric Association for, “The Central State Hospital Archives Project.” Known as the “Father” of American psychiatry, Rush is celebrated for his multiple contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Criteria for the Award involve academic and independent scholars whose research and publications are recognized as making a major contribution to the history of psychiatry.

The Central State Hospital Archives Project started in 2009 as an unfunded project with the goal of increasing electronic access to psychiatric records for families and scholars, while adhering to the legal and ethical standards that guarantee privacy of protected health information.

The project involved Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane (CLACI), which was opened in 1870 as the first mental institution in the United States exclusively for newly freed slaves, and remained racially segregated until 1964 when federal law required the elimination of this practice throughout the country. “Its opening reversed the prevailing 100 year-old hypothesis that blackness and landlessness offered immunity from the risk of mental illness,” said Davis. 

“The hospital retained thousands of original documents and photographs from 100 years of segregated admissions and treatment, but the bulk of these historical records existed in an unarchived environment,” explained Davis. “Assistance was needed to preserve, organize, and increase electronic access to these documents –consistent with existing law.”

“Every state behavioral health system has historical records; however these records are often kept in environments that lead to their deterioration and a loss of history,” noted Davis. What’s more, “states are often unprepared to maintain and protect their archives, and lack the funding to support the innovative digital approaches demonstrated through this project,” he explained. 

In its first six years, the project obtained funding to locate, restore, catalog and digitize the 800,000 paper documents and 6000 photographs maintained at the hospital. And in 2015, additional funding enabled the project to address the intersection of increased access and maintenance of privacy of sensitive historical psychiatric records. 

The hospital retained thousands of original documents and photographs from 100 years of segregated admissions and treatment, but the bulk of these historical records existed in an unarchived environment.

The archives project collected, copied, and analyzed patient, organizational, and policy data from Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane (renamed Central State Hospital in 1885), as well as survey findings from multiple states and academic scholars. 

“Our opportunity to analyze the content of these records tells many stories about the science of psychiatry and mental health treatment during the 18thand 19thcentury career of Dr. Benjamin Rush,” said Davis. “Initial work illuminated how multiple issues of race, slavery, segregation, unscientific predictions of the prevalence of illness, and treatment science were managed in historical literature, public policy and mental institutions,” he explained. “The project also demonstrated the strategic value of developing and nourishing collaboration between interdisciplinary faculty, the state hospital, archivists, state agencies, public libraries, local non-profit organizations, families, and professional associations.”

Executive director of the UT Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, and previously Commissioner of Behavioral Health for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Davis joined the Texas iSchool faculty in 2014. As principal investigator, he assembled an interdisciplinary group of UT faculty and graduate students to participate in the project. 

Co-principal investigators and Texas iSchool Professors Pat Galloway and Unmil Karadkar “graciously lent their expertise, wisdom, and persistence to collect, preserve, and organize close to 800,000 pages of documents and thousands of photographs. And post-doctoral student Lorraine Dong, spent several months onsite to collect, organize, restore, and preserve thousands of documents that were scattered throughout the hospital,” explained Davis.

From the beginning of the project, “faculty, administrators, and students worked collaboratively to develop and preserve the archives from CLACI,” said Davis. “The Rush award is recognition of the tremendous academic collaboration and innovation here at UT that helped to preserve psychiatric records that might not otherwise have survived,” he noted.“I appreciate the contagious sense of collaboration that is the hallmark of this great school and university.” 

Davis will deliver the Benjamin Rush lecture and project findings at the 175th anniversary of the American Psychiatric Association meeting in San Francisco this May. During his presentation, he plans to identify the historical themes that led to the development of Central State Hospital, the various theories that sought to link blackness and disease, and the implications of these views into the 21stcentury.

“Moving forward, the goal is to replicate this work at the state hospital in Austin, Texas, where hospital records are deteriorating,” said Davis. Although funding for the archives project ended in 2018, Davis feels hopeful about new funding –to continue to develop and share methods for preserving and analyzing sensitive historical psychiatric records, while adhering to privacy standards. 

Texas iSchool partners with FEMA, Smithsonian to assist libraries and archives damaged by Harvey

Ferguson, John  |  Sep 07, 2017

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Flooded museum
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A museum is surrounded by floodwaters Aug. 31 near Houston. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Robertson)
Disaster Relief
Karen Pavelka
Rebecca Elder
News Image: 
Rebecca Elder
Image Caption: 
Rebecca Elder

As floodwaters recede from Houston and the Gulf Coast, the Texas iSchool is coordinating a national effort to identify and assist the libraries, museums, archives and cultural institutions most affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Student volunteers in The University of Texas at Austin School of Information have identified more than 500 institutions that may have been in the hurricane’s path. As they gather contact information and monitor websites and social media feeds for updates, students say they will begin calling libraries and other collections on Sept. 11.
“We’re trying to track down information on every institution in counties that are affected by Hurricane Harvey to find out what resources they need, if they were hit, if they’re OK, and how we can help them recover,” said Rebecca Elder, an adjunct faculty member who is overseeing the group of 16 student volunteers.
Elder is the coordinator of National Heritage Responders (NHR), the volunteer emergency recovery team of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The UT Austin School of Information is also working with the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a joint project of FEMA and the Smithsonian; TX-CERA, the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance; and others.
In many cases, Elder said, affected libraries, governmental archives and other collections have only begun to assess their damage. Some, like the Heritage House of Orange County, remain inaccessible. “No tours for awhile,” the museum posted on its Facebook page. “Our world is flooded.”
After students make contact with the affected facilities and assess their needs, they will enter reports into a database that is being shared with the emergency task force. Elder added she will rely on the information provided by iSchool students as she organizes teams of conservators from National Heritage Responders to deploy to flood-ravaged areas.
In addition to iSchool students’ outreach efforts, senior lecturer Karen Pavelka, an expert in salvaging water-damaged books and paper materials, is fielding calls to a disaster-assistance hotline maintained by National Heritage Responders.
Student volunteers Ginny Barnes and Hannah Hopkins, both entering their first year in the iSchool’s Master of Science in Information Studies program, said they were eager to assist in Texas’ response to the storm. “The first priority is obviously people’s safety,” Barnes said, “but it’s also important to protect the cultural record for these communities.”
The students’ efforts are so critical to the recovery effort, according to Elder, she has been given time to discuss their work with members of the Heritage Emergency Task Force on Friday.
“The folks at FEMA are just amazed,” Elder said. “Karen and I are both absolutely thrilled that our students are willing to step up to the plate the first week of school and take on a job like this. We’re even more thrilled that our students are smart and competent, and we can give them this project and say, ‘Here, take this and run with it,’ and know the job is going to be done well.”
Pavelka and Elder have also created a list of emergency salvage tips at For advice, e-mail or call 512-903-9564.
Media inquiries: Wes Ferguson, School of Information, 512-787-5213

Texas iSchool to research White House social media archives

Ferguson, John  |  Jan 04, 2017

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White House social media
Amelia Acker
Social Media
White House
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Amelia Acker
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Assistant Professor Amelia Acker

The White House announced on Jan. 5 that Texas iSchool Assistant Professor Amelia Acker will conduct a pair of research and teaching projects using President Barack Obama’s complete social media archives.
President Obama has been described as the “first social media president.” During his eight years in office, the White House issued hundreds of thousands of tweets, snaps and other posts, charting the evolution of social media. They also reflected broader changes in the ways people consume news and information and engage with the world around them online.
When the Obama administration sought to develop interesting and innovative ways to preserve the content and data, making it useful and available for years to come, Acker responded to the call to action. She will use the social media archives to conduct research that measures the Obama administration’s early social media adoption and civic engagement across platforms. She will also use the content and data to teach access standards and metadata applications at the Texas iSchool.
“Given President Obama’s adoption of new social media platforms and President-elect Trump’s extensive use of Twitter in particular, I think we have an important role to play in identifying ethics, priorities and problems with collections of social media data,” Dr. Acker said. “I’m excited for the role the Texas iSchool will play in locating and shaping the issues animating the future of training information professionals concerned with long-term digital collections, organizational transition, metadata transformation and the future of data culture.”
Dr. Acker is planning to use the social media data this semester to teach a master’s level course on metadata applications in support of digital preservation, data curation and archival access to digital collections such as these presidential and public records. Each of the 15 students who take her course will conduct a final project that finds a novel use for the social media data. The projects will be made available online in May.
For her research project, Dr. Acker will collaborate with Dr. Adam Kreisberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Maryland iSchool.
For more information, contact Wes Ferguson, School of Information, 512-471-2608.


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