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UCLA chancellor appointment

Folk medicine goes online

By Jeyling Chou

Feb. 10, 2005 9:00 p.m.

As a teenager, Professor Michael Owen Jones remembers having a
particular wart on his finger.

Based on the advice of a farmer, he rubbed the wart with a piece
of apple, and buried the apple in the ground. Within a week the
wart was gone.

Professor Anne Gilliland-Swetland recalls a different remedy
from her Irish heritage. As a child, she was told warts could be
removed with a rub of a gold ring.

Both of these remedies ““ along with 220,000 others ““
can be found in the UCLA archive of folk medicine, which was
recently automated and made digitally available by Jones, a
professor of folklore and history at UCLA.

“Folk medicine are the beliefs and practices that we learn
and teach in our first-hand interactions with one another in our
everyday lives,” Jones said.

“It’s not institutional medicine, it’s not
medicine that requires a license,” he added.

The archive, now universally accessible, can be used by
researchers in historical or regional studies of the folk medicine
practices of various ethnic groups.

“One of the wonderful things about doing this in an
automated way and putting it up on the web is people can find
things on their own,” said Gilliland-Swetland, a professor of
information studies who helped assess the format and searchablity
of the archive.

“Instead of having to travel to UCLA or contact Professor
Jones, they can actually do a lot of the legwork themselves without
ever leaving the front of their computer,” she added.

Though folk remedies are often associated with different
religions or cultures, they can also be disseminated through
mainstream sources. Taking vitamin C or zinc tablets, for example,
are popular folk remedies for a cold or weakened immune system.

“They become part of our health and healing repertoire
that we convey to others,” Jones said. “When we hear
someone sneeze, and we offer advice or something to them,
that’s folk medicine.”

Since the 1940s, the archive existed in the basement of Kinsey
Hall in file cabinets that spanned 20 feet of wall.

Remedies and rituals were listed on hundreds of thousands of
index cards, organized alphabetically by disease.

Folklore scholars arrived from around the world and the United
States to search the cabinets and manually collect data.

The current manifestations of the archive are a streamlined
searchable online database, and a 500mb jaz disc.

“About twenty years ago, most material that existed in
archives was in some kind of paper form and when everybody started
to get excited about making information available online it was
very difficult to automate all of that,” Gilliland-Swetland
said. “It’s very labor intensive.”

In the early 90s, Jones discovered that the cards were growing
discolored and brittle. He undertook the task of bringing the
archive into the digital age in order to preserve the information,
and more importantly to prevent the loss of a legacy.

The folk medicine archive was compiled over four decades by
Wayland Hand, who came to UCLA in 1937 and spearheaded the center
for folklore studies.

Enlisting the help of undergraduate volunteers, graduates by
hire, and high school students for free lunch on the weekends, Hand
amassed 200 years worth of folk remedies from newspapers, diaries,
and interviews.

“After (Hand’s) death in 1986, my concern was,
what’s going to happen to this man’s 40 years of work
and the labor of himself and all those students?” Jones

Jones said he wondered how long the university might keep an
archive that was deteriorating with use and limited in
accessibility. A threat that was menacingly close gave a sense of
urgency to Jones’ effort to preserve the information.

“There was a dumpster in the back of Kinsey Hall,”
Jones said. “I didn’t want to see 40 years of work by
scores of people being thrown into the dumpster.”

Jones applied for and received two grants totaling $558,000 from
the National Library of Medicine.

Like Hand before him, Jones enlisted the help of students to
scan and manually enter the records into an online database over a
period of six years.

The file cabinets and index cards are no longer in the basement
of Kinsey Hall.

Many of the folk remedies are still practiced and believed in

The Web site contains a disclaimer underscoring the
archive’s educational purpose and stating in effect that
apples should not be buried in lieu of professional medical

To visit the folk medicine archive, go to

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Jeyling Chou
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