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Stephanie Schmitz is the first Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Archivist at Purdue University.

Stephanie Schmitz pictured in the Purdue Archives and Special Collections. (Photo by Purdue Marketing & Media)

Purdue University Libraries’ unique archive on psychoactive substances research has been named and is now known as the Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Collection. Recently, with Gordon’s support, Purdue Libraries established an endowed archivist position in the Purdue Archives and Special Collections (a division of the Libraries) to lead and grow collections relating to the history of psychedelics research.

Stephanie Schmitz is the first Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Archivist at Purdue University (effective July 1, 2018).

First established in 2006 with generous funding provided by the Betsy Gordon Foundation, the archival collections comprise unique materials that document the history of psychoactive substances and their applications for medicine and healing. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research studies surrounding psychedelics, e.g., the Heffter Research Institute‘s studies on psilocybin for cancer distress and addiction.

“I am pleased to be able to help in developing, through Purdue Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, an archive and library centered on the work of so many dedicated chemists and clinicians who have worked in the field of psychoactive substances,” noted Gordon, a founder of the collecting initiative, who recently donated funds to name the collection and endow the archivist position. “As we have learned from the past, psychoactive substances hold untold potential in the area of reducing human suffering and healing. With such an archive, and through sharing with other universities and research institutions, all the work can be collectively stored and shared through this collection at Purdue,” she added.

Photograph of an article on "The Hallucinogenic Drugs" from a 1964 issue of Scientific American. Image courtesy of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Photograph of an article on “The Hallucinogenic Drugs” from a 1964 issue of Scientific American. Image courtesy of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

According to Purdue University Archivist, Head of Archives and Special Collections, and Professor Sammie Morris, the renaissance in research surrounding the use of psychedelics for mental, physical, and spiritual health is attracting a growing number of scholars to Purdue to use the collection.

“Substances that once brought panic and fear to the public are now being recognized as having substantial health benefits in treating post-traumatic stress disorders, addiction, individuals facing terminal illnesses, and other health concerns,” she noted. “What many people may not know is that there is a long and rich history of psychedelics research conducted by psychiatrists, scientists, and health care professionals prior to the association of these substances with the counterculture movement. The past discoveries and research findings are highly relevant today in informing the future of this research.”

The Premier Collection in Psychoactive Substances

Betsy Gordon

Betsy Gordon (Image courtesy of Gordon)

In 2006, Gordon and David Nichols, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology at Purdue, recognized the need to create a unique collection on the history of psychoactive substances research. According to Morris, the collection has increased dramatically over the last 12 years.

“The scholarship and learning that have resulted from the use of this growing collection would not be possible without Gordon,” Morris noted. “The Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Collection is the premier archival collection of its kind in the United States. It is the only major research collecting effort in the nation specifically centered on acquiring the original, historical primary-source papers of researchers in the field. Other libraries and museums have some collections on this topic, but no other academic institution has been dedicated to collecting these types of one-of-a-kind, original documents, images, and artifacts comprehensively. These items are critical to supporting an understanding of the history of psychedelics research.”

The endowment of the archivist position allows the collecting effort to expand and ensures the sustainability of the collection into the future, Morris added.

The collection benefits researchers in a wide array of disciplines, attracting historians, anthropologists, chemists, and clinical psychologists. Scholars have traveled from around the world to consult the collection, and faculty and students at Purdue and in the local community routinely use the collections for teaching and learning.

Schmitz has led the collecting initiative since 2007. She frequently collaborates with faculty to incorporate the collections into Purdue’s educational mission.

Assorted publications from the Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Collection. Image courtesy of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Assorted publications from the Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Collection. Image courtesy of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

“One of the most compelling things I do is to introduce this fascinating and interdisciplinary area of research to others. There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing the trajectory of archival materials from their inactive use while still in the possession of the donor, to their transfer to archives, and ultimately into the hands of scholars, where their work is referenced in publications such as books, journals, and presentations, further legitimizing this area of research,” Schmitz noted. “These collections of archival materials capture the triumphs and struggles of the work that was carried out in the past, helping to inform current and future research. Betsy’s generous gift will allow me to take this collecting area to new levels, increasing our acquisition of collections, promoting them for research use, and using them in course instruction,” she added.

Purdue University Department of History Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine Wendy Kline said the collection is one of the most valuable sources she has encountered on the history of psychiatry and mental health.

“My forthcoming book, ‘Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth’ [Oxford University Press, 2018] draws on the papers to demonstrate the curious and fascinating connections between alternative birth and psychedelics,” Kline explained. “This collection draws historians from all over the globe, and it will continue to draw in more scholars as interest in these substances and their history grows, as it undoubtedly will. I have used the papers in undergraduate history research seminars and witnessed students come to life as they discover the collection’s fascinating contents. It has made them rethink the connections among science, medicine, and the counterculture.”

These substances, when used in appropriate settings under care of a medical professional, have been shown to increase the quality of life for people suffering from a wide array of illnesses from cancer patients to veterans of war to individuals who have had lifelong struggles with addiction.

“Works by authors such as Michael Pollan (‘How to Change Your Mind’) are informing the public about the health benefits of psychedelics and their potential in addressing issues of national concern, such as the opioid crisis,” noted Interim Dean of Libraries Rhonda Phillips. “The Libraries is proud to hold a comprehensive collection of archival materials dedicated to this research, to preserve and share the history of psychedelics for current and future generations of scholars.”

Learn more about the Betsy Gordon Psychoactive Substances Research Collection at http://collections.lib.purdue.edu/psychoactive/.

For more information, contact Schmitz at sschmit@purdue.edu.