Nerd Nite: Archives Take-Over – October 9, 2019

Archivists take over the popular bar-based monthly lecture series, Nerd Nite Philly.


Nerd Nite is a monthly lecture event that strives for an inebriated, salacious, yet deeply academic vibe. It’s often about science or technology, but by no means is it limited to such topics. And it’s definitely entertaining. Our unofficial tag line is “It’s like the Discovery Channel – with beer!” There are Nerd Nites around the world – Philadelphia is just one of them. Take a gander at for more info.

Wednesday, October 9, 7:30-9:30

Frankford Hall
1210 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125

$5 cover charge


Ashley Bowen, Science History Institute – “The Philatelic Afterlife of Marie Curie”
If someone described the postal system to you, you might think they were describing magic. There are these blue boxes on many street corners that you can drop (mostly) anything into and expect it to get to somewhere hundreds or even thousands of miles away if you put enough special stickers on it. That’s bonkers and yet that’s exactly how the postal system functions. Postage stamps, those special stickers that make the postal magic happen, are themselves tiny works of art issued by national governments that are affordable, available to everyone, and circulate widely.

This talk will focus on representations of Marie Curie on postage stamps, drawing extensively on the Witco Stamp Collection housed at the Science History Institute. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win a Nobel in two different fields, was a widely recognized celebrity during her lifetime. After her death in 1934 Curie transformed into an icon. In the intervening decades, she has become a powerful symbol of women’s advances in education and professional science as well as a figure deployed by social activists at protests and in calls for action. In both roles, Curie’s image is slightly removed from her work on radioactivity and the discovery of radium and polonium. This talk will describe how various nations have used Curie’s image on postage stamps, some images of Curie that are not actually of Curie, and how that shaped (or reshaped) her legacy.

Ashley Bowen received her PhD in American Studies and Public Humanities from Brown University in December 2016. Her research focused on nineteenth century public health and medicine, the material culture of medicine, and representations of patient experience. When she wasn’t reading about blood and guts, she was volunteering at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and indulging in her real passion—postal history! Stamps are tiny works of art issued by national governments. We encounter stamps nearly every day but rarely stop to notice these markers of national identity and pride.

Bowen is currently the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow, Digital Engagement Manager at the Science History Institute. In this role, she works to make the history of science and medicine more accessible, usable, and fun online. Prior to beginning this fellowship, she worked as a guest curator for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibition program.

Like all philatelists, she has a favorite category of stamp. Ask her about revenue stamps after the talks.

Estelle Markel-Joyet, American Philosophical Society – “Dr. Wheeler in Wonderland”
Among the John Archibald Wheeler Papers at the APS is a copy of Alice in Wonderland. It is signed by 71 of the 20th century’s top physicists and boasts Wheeler’s own notes at the back. Where and when did Wheeler get this book? Why did he read it? How does Alice in Wonderland fit into Wheeler’s research?

In the fall of 2008, Estelle began working as a rare materials cataloguer at the American Philosophical Society. After a decade working in the restaurant industry, it was a relief to finally have a chair, a salary, some health benefits, and vacation days. Over the course of the last 11 years, she has certainly seen her share of marvelous and rare books. In 2017, however, the curator of printed materials handed her a very special book: a work of literature! The APS holds collections on botany, anthropology, linguistics, physics, and early American history, but it is rare to be met with literature, much less a children’s classic. It has been a true pleasure studying this work and delving into a part of scholarship hitherto unknown to her.

Chrissie Perella, College of Physicians of Philadelphia – “How to tell if your medicine might actually be a monster”
How can you tell if your medicine might actually be a monster? For starters, it may resemble a small human with plants growing out of its head rather than hair. It may scream, causing coma or even death, when harvested. Many people are familiar with the alleged magical, and medicinal, properties of the mandrake from the Harry Potter book and movie series, although its long history dates back to the Christian Bible. But can we really call the mandrake just a plant? Or is it more – is it a monster as well?

Chrissie Perella is the Archivist at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Although mainly responsible for the preservation and access of the College’s institutional records and hundreds of other manuscript collections, she managed to find time to co-curate “Imperfecta,” which looks at the shifting perceptions about abnormal human development over the past 500 years. Her research interests include Old English literature, particularly charms, magic, and medicine; the “monstrous” in medieval and post-medieval sources; and manuscript waste bindings. You can check out “Imperfecta” in the Mütter Museum until October 20.