Robin Sherman

By Courtney Harrell | University Communications

Robin Sherman has always liked history. As a kid, she loved the Civil War and Gettysburg. As an adult, she spent four years as a contract archaeologist, digging holes in the dirt (which she didn’t like) and interacting with history (which she did). She’s always loved being in a place where history happens and imagining what happened where she’s standing. Now, Sherman has an internship that lets her do what she loves—preserve history.

Sherman, a graduate student pursuing a public history degree from CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is an intern for the College of Nursing’s Nursing History Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus. The Nursing History Center houses items of importance to the College of Nursing, its students, and alumni, and Sherman gets to spend her days going through those historic artifacts, archiving documents, and making information about the history of the College of Nursing organized and accessible for the students and faculty of the university. It’s a chance for Sherman to immerse herself in the preservation of history, and she loves it.

“I was already interested in archival work, so the opportunity to actually experience the work and interact with the history of this school has been wonderful,” Sherman says, “I knew it would be a great experience, and it has been.”

The Nursing History Center

Nursing uniforms display

Sherman says the Nursing History Center is a kind of hidden gem, a wealth of information that not enough people know about.​ Today, it houses photographs of nurses from across the last century, student nurse uniforms, a recording of Florence Nightingale’s voice, school pins, nursing textbooks, yearbooks beginning in 1900, and (Sherman’s favorite) old medical supplies including an early 1900s glass syringe in its original case. The newest addition is a just processed collection of documents from Distinguished Professor and Dean Emeritus Jean Watson, whose theory of caring science is known around the world.

The center opened in 1991 by a group of faculty and alumni who were interested in preserving the college’s history. They began gathering what they could find, rescuing boxes of documents and artifacts, and storing them on campus. Alumni and former faculty donate all kinds of interesting historical artifacts, often in mysterious, unlabeled boxes, and Sherman digs through them like treasure chests, processes the items, and catalogs them in an accessible database.

In recent years, the acquisition of a number of large, new collections from former faculty and the move to the Anschutz Medical Campus, left the Nursing History Center committee overwhelmed and the center disorganized. With all that rich history and not enough time to sort through it, Deanna Geldens, director of marketing, communications and alumni relations for the College of Nursing, decided to find an intern to help. That’s where Sherman came in.

The Internship

Sherman is pursuing a degree in public history because it is the branch of history that focuses on outreach, bringing history to the people through museums, preserved historic sites, and libraries. She dreams of one day being a museum curator, spending her days researching, archiving, and displaying historic treasures, and this internship is the closest she’s been to that goal.

“The work is great,” Sherman says. “It’s hands on. It’s actually interacting with history. It’s everything I could have asked for in an internship.”

The internship is great for Sherman, and it’s great for the Nursing History Center too. Geldens knew that there aren’t many students in the College of Nursing who are interested in history the way students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ history program would be. So, it made sense to partner with another college, and give a student real-world experience to back up their coursework. Now, Sherman gets that experience, and the center gets to share its history.

Preserving nursing history in Colorado is very important,” Geldens says. “The College of Nursing has been influencing the profession for 115 years. Among other things, we started the nation’s first nurse practitioner program in 1965, the first school nurse program soon after, and one of the first mental health master’s programs in nursing. It’s important to give people access to the thought and research around those initiatives. Who knows what kinds of new avenues of inquiry this information could open up?”

Learning from History

Nursing school pins and class pins

As a history student on the CU Denver campus, Sherman knew nothing about nursing or the medical field before her internship, but she loves learning about it. It’s a whole new branch of history that she wouldn’t have been exposed to but which she now knows so much about. Sherman can walk around the room where the collection is stored and tell you about the items behind the glass—the special capping ceremonies that the Nightingale lamps were used in or the levels of experience that the stripes on the nursing caps denote. A year ago, Sherman didn’t know these things existed. Now, she wants everyone to know they do.

“I just want to get the word out about this place,” Sherman says. “Spending my time here and working with this history has been such a wonderful experience for me, and now I want other people to experience it too. All this fascinating history, all our work, is no good if nobody takes advantage of it. I want to see people interested in the history of this school, in these artifacts. After this internship, I know I am.”

The history center still has an additional 135 boxes of materials that they will be making their way through, and people will continue to donate boxes of historical treasure to add to the collection. This year, Sherman will be right there, leading the efforts, processing, and making the information available for public research. She’ll be happily spending her days sifting through history.

Published: March 3, 2015
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