Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Chris Petersen oral history interview, March 8, 2018

Oregon State University
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Tiah Edmunson-Morton: Welcome.

Chris Petersen: Thank you.

TEM: Today we are doing an oral history interview of the Pauling Blog with Chris Petersen. Would you like to introduce yourself?

CP: I am Chris Petersen. [laughs] And today is March 8, 2018, and we are in room 3755 of the library, a place that you and I know well.

TEM: Yes. Tell me the story of how the Pauling Blog started.

CP: Well, the origin story of the Pauling Blog would precede the blog itself by several years. So I started working in Special Collections in 1996 and, at that point, there was a strong interest in digitization already. The papers had been at OSU for about ten years, kind of sort of. Pauling made his donation in 1986, 00:01:00he lived until 1994. Over the course of that time, maybe twenty percent of the collection showed up and a smaller portion of that was jammed into a very small space in the old Kerr Library - a space that doesn't exist anymore. But the part that we had mostly was not in that space, it was in a couple of other places outside of the library and was basically just in storage. And then Pauling died in '94, it took about two years to resolve the estate, so around '96 is when most of the stuff came. And then '98 is when the facility that we're in now was completed, and that's when things came under one roof for the first time.

During that period of time, from '86 to '98, we had the stuff that we had and we were processing it as well as we could. And during that time, the library was 00:02:00very interested in doing some sort of digitization project. And so they settled on something called LaserFiche, which was a database-driven piece of software that was fairly slick. It allowed you to create a folder structure online that looked similar to what we might see in Windows Explorer now, and then digitize stuff into those folders, make it available. It could be password-protected if you wanted. And that's how people would access the content online.

TEM: Were you able to add metadata? Or was it just the item file itself?

CP: No, there was metadata too, yeah.

So that was something that was being pursued with gusto and press announcements went out, "we're digitizing this, isn't it great?" And it was, sort of. But there were a couple of problems. Number one, we started digitizing before the collection was here - never a good thing. So the collection was being processed and re-processed, kind of/sort of, as time was moving forward, and this 00:03:00directory structure that we were creating was no longer relevant. So things got pretty messy in a hurry. The other thing that happened was copyright. So the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed and put us in a situation where we could provide access to everything that we held the copyright for, which was all of Pauling's writings, but not all the other things in the collection that weren't his writings which, there's a lot of that. So that project kind of fell apart as a result of that.

Still an interest in digitizing though, and so from there we switched into thematic websites, which is what is represented now -- particular aspects of Pauling's life and career represented through these documentary history websites mostly, but also some more traditional kinds of digital collections that were created over time as well. So that was a big point of emphasis for Special Collections from really the beginning of my association in '96 to, well, for the 00:04:00entire duration of the department, which ended in 2011.

TEM: At that point was it pretty standard or traditional for archives that focused so much on one person to digitize that much content? Or have that robust of a website, period?

CP: I doubt it. I think that we were different in a lot of ways. I think that probably weren't that many archives that focused on one person. We technically didn't, we had about a dozen other collections, but they were all quite a bit smaller than the Pauling Papers.

But the library was very invested in innovation and developing a digital presence, that was a very big part of our identity as a library, and Special Collections was a big part of making that come to fruition. So there was an emphasis on that administratively and we wanted to do it too within the department. We also were well-equipped to do it. I mean, I didn't have a whole 00:05:00lot of technical skill when I started working, but Ryan Wick definitely did. He's still with us and he was the driving force on the technical end. And I was a useful helper as far as that's concerned and learned things, and he and I have been a good partnership over the years in that regard.

Anyway, this is a very long way of getting to the Pauling Blog, but... So we did all these websites and they were what they were, and they got used and we were proud of them. We were pretty obsessed with our Google ranking for a while and so that was one piece of how the Pauling Blog came about - I'll tell that story in a second. We also had a need to tell people about events that were participating in or hosting. And the solution we had was basically a little spot on our website and an RSS feed that would shoot out, that maybe people would use, probably not a lot of them. And that was "something's happening," if you 00:06:00happened across our website you might found out about it, if you subscribe to our RSS feed you might find out about it. So we wanted something better for a particular event and that was the release of a postage stamp. In March 2008 the Postal Service released a series of stamps celebrating American scientists, and Pauling was one of them. And they had an event in the basement of the Memorial Union, they had a cake and Linus Pauling Jr. came and students from Linus Pauling Middle School came and all the local stamp geeks showed up, and it was great. It was actually fun - it was great.

But anyway, this was happening and we wanted to let people know it was going to happen, we wanted a better way to do it than what we had from our website and our RSS feed. We also wanted to be able to follow up; we wanted to take pictures, we wanted to make them available somehow. And this was pretty early on in terms of photo sharing, etc. We definitely didn't have a Flickr account or anything like that.

So I was thinking about this and I talked about it with a student of ours - 00:07:00Trevor Sandgathe, whom you and I know well, he's still on staff - and we talked about creating a blog. And the blog would be a place where we could be more flexible with telling stories about Pauling, but also raising awareness about events like this. That's really how that piece of it got motivated.

But the other bit was the Google ranking. And so we would a lot of searching for 'Linus Pauling' and we got frustrated because we learned pretty quickly that, at that time - I'm sure things have changed since - but at that time, Google would lump everything that we had ever made about Linus Pauling into one pot, basically. And so you would search for 'Linus Pauling' and the result you would get the documentary history that was the most popular, which was Nature of the Chemical Bond, and you wouldn't have any indication that all this other stuff existed. If you did the 'Linus Pauling' search, you wouldn't have Nature of the 00:08:00Chemical Bond, International Peace Movement, Proteins website, etc. All you'd have is Nature of the Chemical Bond. And if you clicked on 'more results within domain,' then that's when that other stuff would start to appear. So essentially we were burying ourselves within our domain. We were getting this one return. The only way you would ever find anything else if you did 'Linus Pauling' plus some other word to get into that other chunk of stuff that we had put up online.

So we started to think about that, the fact that we were burying ourselves in our own domain, and we thought, "wouldn't it be interesting if we had a different domain that we controlled that we could use to funnel traffic into these other resources?" So essentially what we were trying was a very rudimentary approach to search engine optimization. That was another goal of the blog - unstated, but certainly it was.

So if you look at those early blog posts, we have the stamp announcement and the follow-up. But we also have a series of short posts that are very link-heavy, 00:09:00that essentially are retelling stories that had already been told on the documentary history websites. But the thought process was that eventually the Pauling Blog would raise up in rank in Google and that people would come across this content in the Pauling Blog, and they would click on the links, and that would get them into the stuff that was within the Special Collections domain. And that, I don't know if it ever actually worked, but those were the two reasons why the Pauling Blog came into being. That's the origin story.

TEM: So at that point, in the late 2000s, that's kind of the golden age of blogs. And blogs were pretty special; it was a format where, a site where people could add their own content without having this kind of higher-level coding knowledge. Were you thinking about that, as a kind of long-term commitment to writing and sharing stories? Or was it much more immediately focused, as you 00:10:00were just talking about?

CP: That emerged fairly quickly; the possibility of that emerged fairly quickly. It definitely was not a primary motivation from the outset. It took us a little while to figure out what we were doing. The early posts are short, they're link-heavy, they traverse familiar ground related to Pauling. And they were twice a week. So that was a thing that we were doing. And it took us a little while to figure out what kind of resources one needs to operate a blog that publishes x number of times. And eventually we settled on once a week and the posts started getting longer.

So we started out from the origin story to the next phase, as I recall, was, once we had sort of done all the search engine optimization that we could think of, was to use the documentary histories themselves as a data source, or as a 00:11:00set of information that a student would be restricted to in telling a different story. So perhaps they are expanding upon something that was mentioned in the narrative of the documentary history or going down a different line of inquiry that could be supported by the documents that had been digitized into that resource. And that was the next step. So we went from re-telling the same stories that had already been told to telling somewhat new stories that were not reliant upon the entire collection for the research. It was an artificially constrained collection that the students were using to write. And part of that was just me not being totally sure if a student could handle the whole collection in terms of research and writing. But that was, I guess, the next phase of us branching out in terms of using the blog as platform for something that was different from the original idea.

TEM: How did you decide what to write about? Or what to have students write about?


CP: Well, I'd been working with the papers for twelve years at that point, so I was pretty familiar with the mythology and the canon. And it was easier earlier on because, again, we weren't really trying to do something new and original, we were trying to steer traffic. And then beyond that, once we started to use the documentary histories as our source, it was, again, fairly straightforward for me to analyze that and think about, "well, this might be interesting to expand upon." It's basically thinking about, "here's our website, it's structured with a narrative and has supporting documents," the narrative tells the story in a particular way but Pauling's life is so vast and sprawling in a million different directions that there are lots of ways that you can tease out small details. So it was just sort of using my imagination as far as that was concerned.


And I often knew what the outcome was going to be from that piece of research, just from my exposure to the collection. But it had not been written out or documented very well, at least on the web. It might have shown up in a biography somewhere. So I guess that's how it happened.

TEM: Were there things that you carried forth from the time that you had actually worked with the papers, that you wanted to know more about?

CP: Later. I mean, that's sort of where we're at now, actually. That's become something that's probably driven the blog more than anything else over the last two or three years is me being interested in something and [laughs] having a student go research it for me so I can learn something new. [laughs]

TEM: Did you imagine, in this second phase, that the blog would become a 00:14:00research resource in and of itself? That you would be pointing people in that direction who wanted to know more about Pauling?

CP: That's a good question, I'm not sure. I think that it probably gradually happened over time. I mean a lot of it was in the context of the department as well. For Special Collections - Pauling was the dominant presence in Special Collections for the whole time that it existed and the Pauling Blog was a piece of that ecosystem. So we had all the websites that we created, we had all the outreach that we were doing, the blog was a part of both of those. But we were also in the middle of a project to document every single day of his life, which we got from 1930 to 1969, Linus Pauling Day-by-Day. And so that was the level of thinking in terms of resources available to researchers.


That situation has changed significantly and the connection to Special Collections that exists now is the Pauling Blog. And it's a significant connection. But it's become more valuable, I think, in that context, in the sense that the work that we're doing related to Pauling now is the blog, and has been since 2011. So it's not quite seven years now yet, but it's a good amount of time in which that's been the case. So it's become more of a point of emphasis as a result of institutional change, I would say.

TEM: So rewinding to 2009 say, so you've been doing the blog for a year, what were some of the challenges that you were facing in those early year or two years?

CP: Well, I don't really remember there being a lot of challenges because, at 00:16:00that point, we were still mining low-hanging fruit and we were filled with possibility and we had as many resources as we possibly could have wanted. It was mostly an issue of channeling energy and recruiting good people. And that is a continuing challenge, but we've been pretty fortunate as far as our success rate in that sense.

So the first writers for the blog were me and Trevor. Trevor was a student then and he and I basically co-founded this resource. At some point I realized that I wasn't going to have as much time to do research and writing for the project so I asked him if he knew anybody that was good, and he did - his buddy. [laughs] And so I hired him. And they basically took over the research and writing at that point, and things just sort of evolved from there.

Early on we had a graduate student who worked for us who, I don't remember her circumstance but she was in Corvallis for a summer somehow, and I came into contact with her, and she had her own points of view and interests. And again, 00:17:00we hadn't done a whole lot of writing at that point, so she could kind of dip into the collection and talk about the things that she was interested in. And the things that she wrote about were interesting and wouldn't have occurred to me at that point. They were mostly about Pauling's research methodology, so she wrote posts about electrophoresis and x-ray crystallography and that sort of thing, and it was great. So that's how things evolved earlier on.

But in terms of challenges, I don't think that there have ever been really significant challenges. We've been fortunate to have administrative support for the project from the beginning. I figured out at some point that it needs two students. The students who work for us usually work about ten hours per week, roughly. So about twenty hours a week of student assistance is required to keep the blog operating at its current level, which is posting once a week and the posts are usually about 1,000 words. And now we're doing almost all original research, so it takes time, it takes talent. And there's never been any 00:18:00push-back on that. I mean, that's 0.5 FTE for a student and that's significant. I think that there are probably plenty of archives where that is there is their whole student staff or maybe it's more than their whole student staff. So I think the big challenge would arise if and when it was impressed upon me that we couldn't afford it anymore, and that would probably be the end of the project. But it's never even been introduced and I'm very grateful for that.

But beyond that, the other challenges would be finding good people to write - we've had good luck there. Making sure that I have the time to devote to it and I've gotten pretty efficient at this point, so that's not been an issue. And continuing to come up with ideas, and there's a lot in that collection to write about, so that also has not been a huge challenge.

TEM: What about early feedback? Who were some of the people who you remember 00:19:00either emailing or getting in contact as a result of what you guys were writing?

CP: Very little. I don't think of the Pauling Blog as being a social media project because there isn't a whole lot of interaction. We get a comment from time to time, but the feedback that I see is the viewer numbers, and those have gone up significantly over time. Our first year - so the blog launched in March and at the end of that first calendar year we'd had about 8,000 views for the whole year. And last year we had 137,000, so that's the feedback.

I guess that's a piece of the feedback. The other piece of the feedback that I have seen is people, for better or for worse, using this resource as an authoritative source. So if you go into Google Scholar and you type 'Pauling Blog' in, you'll find people that have cited blog posts that we have written in their academic work, and it shows up all over the place within Wikipedia too. So 00:20:00to me that is a suggestion of people taking the work seriously. [laughs]

But you know, in terms of feedback it was sort of the usual suspects that existed within our world at that time: Cliff Mead, the head of Special Collections; Tom Hager, Pauling's biographer who lives in Eugene; Steve Lawson, who was an administrative officer at the Linus Pauling Institute; Mary Jo Nye, who was a distinguished professor in the history of science, and a few other people within that realm. Ken Hedberg, who knew Pauling well and is still with us, thankfully, closing in on a hundred years old. And they occupied a space that was not Pauling Blog-specific, it was more the world of Pauling, and there was plenty of stuff that happened on campus that was Pauling-related that they would all gather. And it was kind of a club on some level, we knew each other well. And in those settings the blog would come up from time to time. But beyond 00:21:00that, not a whole lot from anybody.

TEM: I was reading the comments, I think it was on the main homepage, and it really ran the gamut of "I want to share this thing" to "I have this research question" to "great job." It was about as eclectic as it could be, and I wasn't sure if that was just on the homepage or if you got more within posts that people were more post-specific.

CP: Yeah, from time to time, but not a lot...not a lot. I think that it's not really a resource that invites inquiry. It's sort of, "this is the story [laughs] and I hope you like it."

So, I'll back up on that. There have been instances in which we've been corrected, we've made mistakes and have been corrected, and I've been grateful for that. Thankfully not a ton of those, but that has happened. The one time 00:22:00where we received real significant - well, there's been two times - real significant feedback, once gratefully received and once not so much. The time - so Pauling received a bunch of minerals from Robert Oppenheimer in the early '30s, and some of them had labels on them and some of them didn't. So we took pictures of all of them and we put them up and we said, "does anybody know what this is?" And somebody circulated that post at some rock club somewhere, and they gave us a whole bunch of identities related to it. And so that was great; that was great.

We also ran a post on UFOs once. Pauling had an interest in UFOs and thought for a brief moment that he might study them as a research topic. And that kind of set the world on fire for certain folks who peppered us for more information about UFOs, UFOs, Pauling and UFOs. And there just really is not that much in 00:23:00the collection. [laughs] So we have basically the one document and a couple of books where he's written some things. And, you know, we digitized all of that and put it out there as best we could, but we just didn't have a whole lot more to offer. So those are two things that come to mind.

TEM: So heading into the 2010s, I think around that time there was talk about merging departments together. What did you think about at that time as it pertains to Pauling's identity? Which I guess is a slightly larger question than the blog - it's not a slightly larger question, it's a larger question. What did you think that would mean? Or what were some of the promises or concerns that you had about that?

CP: Identity within the context of the institution? The points of emphasis?


TEM: Yeah, I think so.

CP: Well, I don't know. I think that it was never really spelled out one way or the other. I think that I had an inkling that things were going to change in terms of the work that we did. But I think it was appropriate, honestly. I think that there's still work that could be done with Pauling for sure, that would be useful and interesting. But Special Collections and University Archives didn't have a whole lot of connection with one another, I think it's fair to say, and when the two departments did come together, for me it was more a situation of being really interested in learning more about all these other collections.

You know, I'm an accidental archivist. I never intended to be one, it just happened to me. I'm very grateful for it. I'm also not a historian of science. And I've learned a lot about Linus Pauling because I've worked a lot with his 00:25:00papers because that was my job, but it was never my ambition to be a Pauling scholar or a historian of science, and I wouldn't suggest that I'm the latter for sure. And I guess I'm accidently the former on some level. But I just like to learn about new stuff and we went from a department of a couple dozen collections to one of over a thousand, and for me it was just an opportunity to learn more about those collections and to learn more about this institution that's meant a lot to me over the course of my life.

I don't know that there was a plan, necessarily, for Pauling, one way or the other. But as I became more enmeshed within SCARC it became clear to me that there were other big fish that needed frying, department-wide. Big issues that needed to be dealt with, and that expanded purview necessarily meant that less focus was going to be placed on Pauling. There are two or three pretty big Pauling projects that I would like to have done. I don't know if I'm ever going 00:26:00to be the person to do them; I could provide some support for them if they were to come about. But if they don't happen, that's ok too. I mean, we've done a lot with Pauling.

Pauling made his donation in '86 and it was a ridiculous decision, there was no reason why he should have done it, because this place was completely ill-prepared to handle the material. There was nowhere to put it, there was no department to handle it, and a lot of other places that were a lot better off wanted his stuff. And there's lots of reasons why he probably made that decision, but I honestly think the biggest one is because he knew he was going to be a big fish in a small pond, and that he was going to receive a lot of attention. And I'm sure that appealed to him on some level.

And, OSU made a promise to him that they would create infrastructure to deal with his stuff in real way, and they did. They followed through on that promise. 00:27:00They created a department and they eventually created a space for all this stuff. And then we devoted a decade-plus of effort to really pushing hard. So by the time that SCARC was created in 2011, Pauling had been dead for 15 years, 16 years, 17 years. And I feel like OSU had made good on its promise at that point, and it was appropriate to move on because there were other issues that needed to be deal with. And I think that SCARC now is a product that is greater than the previous constituents. Bringing them together leveraged skillsets across a large content set that didn't exist before, and we've been able to do things that I think are really interesting and exciting as a result of that. So I think it was the right decision at that time.

So a lot of the Pauling stuff had to be sacrificed a little bit. But as I say, the blog is continuing and the resources that go into it are not trivial, so I 00:28:00think in that regard OSU continues to make good on its promise to the Pauling family. And the papers are totally processed and they get used constantly. I mean, we have people coming here all the time to use the materials and we ourselves use them all the time too. So it seems to me that we're in a good place there. And as I say, there are a couple projects that I would like to see happen at some point, but it would probably require outside money and energy at this point to make that happen, rather than being the thrust of an entire department as was once the case.

TEM: Did you immediately see topic extensions for the blog in the things that you were learning about the University Archives side? Did you start to draw on those collections more?

CP: Eventually. So, let's see, Oregon turned 150 years old some year [laughs]. I think it was before SCARC came into being.

TEM: I think it was 2009.

CP: Yeah. So that was the first time that we really engaged with Pauling as an 00:29:00Oregonian. I mean, we had some - there was plenty of lore about it, but for me anyway, that was the first time we had really dug into his story on the Oregon side. But SCARC didn't exist at that point, so I was definitely not using University Archives materials at that point, but it was a point of entry on some level.

More recently, we definitely have. So last fall was the 100th anniversary of his enrollment at Oregon Agricultural College, and it was mostly the Barometer, I think, and the yearbooks, but those are materials that were sort of outside the purview of Special Collections once upon a time. But we told the story of what his first year in college was and what OAC was at that time, and next fall will be the 100th anniversary of his sophomore year and we'll do the same thing. So there's been some of that.

There's a very small collection related to Mervyn Stephenson, who was his cousin. And actually, it was pretty interesting, he went on to become a 00:30:00bridge-builder of consequence in this state. And that's a University Archives collection that generated a couple of posts.

But yeah, I think that closer connection to his relationship with his alma mater and with the state would be the main point of entry, and it would mostly be through resources in SCARC/previously University Archives that are pretty fundamental, like yearbooks and general catalogs and, well, student academic records I guess, on some level too.

TEM: I have to consult my notes. I'm curious about how the blog changed as technology changed. We've seen a real rapid growth tech-wise in the last ten 00:31:00years, what are some of the standouts for you of changes that happened that were really impactful?

CP: So, I would suggest that the changes that have happened in that regard would be changes within WordPress and not within technology. WordPress has matured over time and I'm not one to really keep up with any sorts of formal announcements that they make, which I presume that they do, but every now and then something just looks different within WordPress. [laughter] And so then I'll try to figure out what changed.

But the way that we're able to present stuff is more sophisticated now in terms of image galleries, etc. We don't really do a whole lot of that, but that's one bit. I think embedding media also, audio and video, is more intuitive and probably there's more flexibility there than there used to be. But again, we 00:32:00also don't do a whole of that either. So in answer to your question...not a whole lot. [laughter] We've pretty much been doing the same thing the whole time. We've been researching and writing, we've been illustrating with images, we've only ever had two different themes for the way the blog looks. There was one theme that we changed like two years in, and we're still using that.

TEM: What about the scanning technology itself? Has that improved significantly or improved the way that you can do work related to the blog? Or is it kind of the same flat standard, you scan and then it's blog-worthy, maybe not preservation-worthy?

CP: Yeah, definitely the latter. I've always had a scanner in my office, and maybe having the Pauling Blog has been a continuing rationale for having a scanner in my office, because I've got a new one. But the stuff that goes up there, usually I just pick it out when I'm editing the post, scan it real quick 00:33:00and that's the end of it. That's probably not the best way to go about things, but it is the way that things are done. There isn't any preservation-level scanning or metadata, it's not uploaded to any particular source. I do try to make sure that I title the image in such a way that I can find it again, because people ask for them sometimes. But yeah, we really have not progressed very much [laughs] in terms of our technical approach to the project.

TEM: Well, but it's funny to think that one thing that has changed over those ten years is that we so easily upload photos now that we don't expect things to be super high resolution, super high quality. So in a way it doesn't matter that the tech hasn't evolved.

CP: Yeah. And actually, in one way, WordPress' evolution has lessened the ability for an individual to access a high resolution image. Once upon a time, 00:34:00when you uploaded an image into WordPress, if it was high res, WordPress would shrink it down to a scale that would fit within the frame of you blog theme nicely, and if you clicked on it, you would get that higher-res. It doesn't do that anymore. Now if you click on it, you get the image that you see on the blog, even if the original was higher res. And I presume that they do that to save space on their end, because it is free after all, unless you pay for a web domain that doesn't have the word 'wordpress' in it. You can do it, but you have to do it on purpose though. You have to do it on purpose for somebody to be able to access that, so that doesn't really happen very often anymore.

TEM: What about audience? What do you know about the audience and how the audience has changed or stayed the same?


CP: It's very much a global audience. WordPress returns statistics that show you where people are from that are reading, and it's mostly the U.S., but it's not overwhelmingly the U.S., it's from all over the place. I think the U.S. is first, Canada is second, and I think India is third. We've got plenty of readership in Great Britain, and really from everywhere. You'll find views from places like Nepal and various countries in Africa and what not. So it's definitely a global audience, it's also an audience that is associated with the academic calendar. Most of our views will come from September through May, and then in the summertime they dip significantly. So a good month for us, a really good month, would be 15,000 views, and in the summertime, July usually, it will dip below 7,000. So those are definitely two traits that would come to mind in 00:36:00terms of who the audience is.

But it's growing; it's a growing audience too. I mean, the viewership goes up every year and I think that's probably because we're continuing to write. There's just more there to find. So there's that. The audience - so we have about a thousand people that follow it. There's a couple of different ways that one can follow the blog, and that number is approach 1,000 now. But it's mostly people who find it on accident, by which I mean by Google search. We've recently tried to expand [laughs] our social media outreach through Twitter and Facebook, and maybe that's helping, I'm not sure. But hopefully. It can't be hurting.

TEM: And Instagram.

CP: Yes, that too. That too.

Yeah, so there's all that. The other thing that I would say is that we have a 00:37:00few anchor posts that get hit a lot, and it's often DNA stuff. So if you look at the blog, on the right-hand side there's a widget that says "Recently Viewed" or something like that. And essentially what that is, is every twenty-four hours the widget will return the top ten posts that were viewed within that twenty-four hour period of time. And it's only posts that are hit individually, so if you're looking at the homepage and scrolling through, it doesn't count those. So it's people who are finding things by search. And it's always - of those ten, at least six or seven of them are DNA related. I mean, it's still a huge topic that obviously people who are in the world academia, be it K through 12 or college level or beyond, are interested in. So those are the anchor posts that get them into the site, and then the next chunk of stuff is that amorphous index/archives, is the way the WordPress returns it. You don't know what they're 00:38:00looking at, but presumably they're looking at the homepage and scrolling through. So there are those posts that get people there and then I think that they start to poke around a little bit. That's a big piece of how the viewership has grown. So, you know, I've thought about if I were to give a talk on this someday, people want to say, 'how do you have a blog that people actually read?' Well the secret, honestly, is to have a few things that people really want to read and will continue to find, and then from there they wander around. That seems to be what's happening with us.

TEM: I imagine it's like having a storefront. Like that's the rationale for department stores too.

CP: Yeah.

TEM: Have an attractive storefront that makes people want to wander around.

CP: Right. The pharmacies in Fred Meyer and that kind of thing. I think they call them loss-leaders.

TEM: Switching a little to students, how many students have worked on the blog?

CP: Well, thirty-three people have written for the blog and I would say that 00:39:00probably more than twenty-five of them have been students. It's mostly students. So the people that have written for it have been students and me and a sort of random collection of other people. Tom Hager contributed a couple of things he actually had written for something else, but we re-posted them. We had a guy named John Leavitt who was an employee of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine when it was in the Bay Area, who has taken an active interest in us for a long time, and he's been our - I called him our East Coast Bureau Chief for a while because he's based in Connecticut. He's sent us quite a bit of stuff and we've published him.

Another hat that I wear within the department is Remote Reference Coordinator, and so sometimes somebody will contact us with a fairly in-depth inquiry about Pauling and it's going to be published in a book or in a paper or whatever, and I'll invite them to write something for the blog and tell them that it actually has a pretty good audience and it's going to expose your project to a wider 00:40:00audience than maybe it would otherwise receive. And we've gotten guest posts based on that as well.

But those are few and far between, relatively speaking. It's been mostly students, and a full gamut of students too - undergraduates, masters-seeking and Ph.D. students. We've had good luck with the Honors College; we've recruited a lot out of the Honors College here. We've had good luck with the History of Science program, we've had good luck with the English program. But not necessarily just those three - again, there's a bit of word of mouth from time to time, and just good luck as well happens from time to time too.

TEM: What is the most memorable thing that a student found or researched or asked you about?

CP: Yeah, that's an easy answer for me. I don't know what the year was, it's 00:41:00been a few years ago, but there's a controversy - a very weird scientific controversy - on something called quasicrystals. Quasicrystals, I would not pretend to be an expert on them, but I can say that they are exotic and they are related to structural chemistry and there's a lot of math involved. And so I knew that Pauling had done a lot of writing and speaking about quasicrystals in the '80s, and he got into basically a dispute with another guy named Dan Schectman about - I think Schectman was pro-quasicrystals and Pauling was anti, I'm honestly not even sure at this point. But there was a dispute and Schectman was right and, as it turned out, Schectman won the Nobel Prize in 2011 for this work on quasicrystals. And this stands as a piece of evidence about Pauling's stubbornness and about his inflexibility at times, which was very much a part of his personality, especially as he got older.


But I wanted to do something with this, but I knew that I didn't have the ability to do it and I didn't figure many students would. But we finally had somebody who came across my desk who I thought, "she might be able to pull this off." And she did. So she devoted a lot of time to this, she was married and her husband created animated gifs to use as illustrations because she felt like that was necessary to provide context for what she was writing. And she worked from home for a while because I think she was having some health issues, and she finally emailed it to me. And she emailed it as a full package and in the email she quoted Moby Dick. And part of the quote - I don't know the whole thing - but "from hell's heart I stabbath thee" was part of what she said because she had slayed this white whale of this set of posts about quasicrystals.

And it was terrific, it really was. She was an extraordinary talent. And that 00:43:00was, I think, pretty much the end of her time with us; I don't know what happened to her since, I hope that she's done well. But she was exceptional and that really stands out in memory as just being a terrific accomplishment; something that I couldn't have done. I think that most of what we publish is good to pretty good to excellent, and most of it I could do if I had the time and wherewithal. But I don't know if I could have done that. She did and it was great. So, "from hell's heart I stabbath thee." [laughs]

TEM: Moby Dick always comes up.

CP: Yeah, timeless.

TEM: I was sort of thinking that the answer to that would not be quasicrystals but that it would be something more controversial. So Pauling also had other controversial aspects of his life and his career and I'm curious about how 00:44:00you've dealt with that?

CP: Yeah. I think that the blog is mostly friendly to Pauling and I think that's valid. We are not an exercise in hagiography though, and we have written things that are not necessarily flattering. I think the quasicrystals instance is one of them, in fact.

The topic du jour these days is whether or not Pauling was a eugenicist, and we've written on that. It's tricky, for sure, but I think we've taken a pretty balanced approach to that. And the last bit that we did was actually a summary of a talk that was given here by somebody from our Resident Scholar Program. So that's been another thing that we've done is writing profiles on the different people who have come here as Resident Scholars to do work on Pauling; there have 00:45:00been several of them. And this guy gave a nice talk that, I think, presented the nuance pretty well, and I wrote that post. I was there for his presentation, I re-watched it, I wrote up the notes and I thought a lot about how to present this. And I think that stands as a nice statement on Pauling's point of view related to eugenics, which I'm not going to get into there. But that is one instance.

Another instance that I think is valid is his relationship with his children. We've done two sets of posts on his two sons that are no longer living - Crellin was the youngest one and was actually the first one to die, and then Peter was the second oldest of the kids who had a tough life on a lot of levels. And we took a deep dive on both of them, and engaged with their life story in a way that, I'm sure, nobody else has. Pauling, I think, he was of a different 00:46:00generation of parent than I am. He was very focused on his career and he had a wife who saw it as her role - early on, at least - to care for the children and to create a scenario in which he could do his work most effectively.

And he did a lot of very effective work, but I think it also had an impact on his kids on some level. I think that he loved them, I think that he certainly provided for them well after they were out of the home - most of them. But that warmth was not always necessarily there and the time was not there for sure, and that's a criticism. And I think that comes through in the writing on some level. And it had consequences. I mean, Crellin and Peter both had rough patches in their lives, for sure.

So those are a couple bits. Another thing we've done is written extensively about lawsuits. And he was involved in a lot of lawsuits. The ones that we've 00:47:00engaged with are well in the past and they're libel lawsuits - mostly papers, magazines calling him a communist and him being very litigious about it. And, so there was a Supreme Court verdict that came through that basically shot his point of view down and that was the end of him being successful with these lawsuits, but he pursued them doggedly and a sort of persnickety side of his personality arises. He could be a little cranky at times and he probably had a right to be as far as that was concerned, but in my reading of the documents and just in his interactions with people as a writer of letters, he was always very formal and he sometimes he could be pretty terse and not especially warm.

So we dug into the lawsuits in significant depth and I think that showed pieces 00:48:00of his personality as far as that's concerned. There are other lawsuits that are a little more recent that I'm not going to touch, because they're with people who are still around and it would be a bad idea. [laughs] So there's that.

We've done a lot of work on vitamin C, especially vitamin C and cancer, to a lesser degree vitamin C and the common cold, and vitamin C and heart disease. And Pauling was obsessed with vitamin C - I think that's a fair statement - and was not necessarily willing to hear contradictory points of view very much, or perhaps pursued lines of inquiry that were not super scientific but were favorable to his perspective; overly favorable.

And so some of that has emerged in the writing. But I also think, there seems to 00:49:00be a trend now - a rising trend - of scientists who are starting to think that he was on to something, and that's been fun to document as well. So the idea basically is that if you take vitamin C orally, you are not able to absorb most of it, you excrete most of it in your urine. So there's a threshold of absorption. And he knew that, I think, but tried to suggest different ways of taking it, kind of a steady dose over the course of an entire day that would increase the concentration in the blood. But some of the things that he said were going to happen concerning the promise of vitamin C to heal in various ways were lost because you just couldn't absorb the ascorbic acid into your body.

But in more recent time, scientists seem to be coming to the understanding that if you take it intravenously it's a different transport mechanism and you're able to absorb a lot more and, in fact, some of what he thought was going to 00:50:00happen may actually be true. And this is of, like, last Fall - there was a seminar at the Linus Pauling Institute for their Diet and Optimum Health Conference that was devoted entirely to that. So I sent one of our students to cover it and it was great. It's really fun for me to be able to follow that a little bit and to convey that a little bit, because he took a real beating for his point of view on that. And his tactics were not the best tactics. But it's pretty interesting to me that, these many years later, he actually may have been right about some of that stuff. So that's been fun. I kind of steered away from your question a bit.

TEM: Well no, I think it's the messiness of a life question and the role that this thing that has become, I guess arguably the biggest outreach mechanism at 00:51:00this point for sharing information about his life, a really deep dive into his life. And more, I guess generally or holistically, how to cover that and how to deal with lots of different levels. That there are things that you just can't write about, you don't want to write about, that you don't want to touch with a ten-foot pole, that maybe feel safer or don't feel safer. I guess I'm wondering if, do you see yourself as his biographer?

CP: Oh no, definitely not. But here is what I do see myself as. I see myself as a person who, through pure accident, wound up in a very unique position. I was hired as a student assistant in 1996, I was hired as a full-time whatever it is that I am in 1999, and that was the period of time during which the collection was being processed, and somehow I took charge of that when I was a student. The 00:52:00person who had my job before me left in the spring of my senior year of college, and at that point I began to lead the processing effort of this enormous collection, which is ridiculous.

And that continued. So we published the catalog in 2006, so that's ten years of work based on my start date as a student. And that's never going to happen again. Nobody's ever going to re-process the Pauling Papers. I hope not, at least. [laughs] So I had this opportunity that nobody else will ever have. And when you work with a collection, you don't necessarily become their biographer, but you do have a level of intimacy with the material that nobody else will ever have, because nobody else is going to process that collection.

And now, when I think about the blog I think about it in multiple ways, but one of the ways that I think about it is being a resource for future archivists who 00:53:00work at OSU to be able to work with this collection in a more effective way, just because they're not going to have that same experience of working with it that I had. And part of what continues to motivate me to publish the project is that; is to leave a little bit of my experience behind after I'm gone, because the blog will hopefully continue to exist. I doubt it will continue to be published after I stop doing it, whenever that is, but what we've done will continue to exist. We're archiving it with our Archive-It instance, so it's in the Internet Archive. It gets archived once a quarter.

And I'm happy about that. It's a very big collection, it's difficult to provide reference for it because of its size, and it's unfair for all of the people who work here to be expected to know it on anything more than a surface level. So this is a tool for them to have in the future.


TEM: Is there a post that you thought about writing, because of the depth of knowledge that you have about the collection, that you decided not to write?

CP: Yeah, I thought about writing something next week [for the tenth anniversary of the Pauling Blog] but we're doing this instead. [laughs]

TEM: So maybe you should just say it out loud and then we'll just post the video, and that will be your post.

CP: Yeah. I mean, there's a part of me that wants to write a reflection about my engagement with Pauling, a person I never met. He died when I was a senior in high school; actually the summer after my senior year of high school. I was working for the Department of Transportation picking up garbage by the side of the road in Eastern Oregon on the day that he died. So that was my status at the end of his life. But I have come to know him well through strange ways, and I have come to know his oldest son quite well - Linus Jr. - through oral history. And I was in the middle of this department [Special Collections] that doesn't 00:55:00exist anymore, that was devoted to him. And that's, again, a unique experience. Part of my oral history work, in addition to Linus Jr., was to interview Cliff Mead - basically the one and only head of Special Collections that ever existed - to try to get some of his memories from the chapter before I came along in '96, because there were nine years of time that elapsed. So I could have a history of Special Collections recorded somewhere. And anyway, part of me has thought about writing these memories down, these recollections down, but it seems like a lot of work [laughs] and I have other things to do right now. And also, probably very few people care. But maybe someday.

TEM: You could also just do it for yourself.

CP: Yeah, I have a four-year-old. I don't have any time.

TEM: Wait until she's 14.

CP: Yeah.

TEM: What about topics that you've thought about writing about? I mean, there's some really personal relationship stuff between he and Ava Helen...


CP: Yep. That's actually a good example of something that I've thought about and haven't done. So they were separated for a year when he went to Caltech and she was here. They wanted to get married and their parents wouldn't let them, so she stayed here in Corvallis for a year and he went for his first year of grad school. And then he came back that next summer, they got married, and they went off together. But they were apart for one year and they wrote to each other basically every single day, and we have all of his letters but none of hers, because he burned them. And I think that there's probably good stuff in those letters but I just can't deal with it because there's also a lot of lovey-dovey stuff, and there's just a lot of stuff period.

But I think that the correspondence between he and Ava Helen is ripe for mining, and Mina Carson did some of that for her Ava Helen biography. Pauling was super 00:57:00formal in his correspondence and pretty much to the point, because he was doing a lot of corresponding and just was a very busy person period. The one time where he reveals himself on any deeper level, or reveals any kind of vulnerability, is in his correspondence with his wife. So I think that there's probably a lot there that could be thought about and teased out, but it would take a lot of time and thinking to try and figure out what exactly is going on here with some of that stuff. But that's something that I would like somebody to do some day; that's definitely at least a paper, if not a book.

Something that I would like somebody else to do that definitely is a book is to talk about his relationship with Caltech. He was there for a long time and it would be really interesting to trace his evolution while there and also to trace the Institute's evolution while he was there, and think about how the two of them were symbiotic on some level. I mean, Caltech was not Caltech when he 00:58:00joined, and it is Caltech in part because he was there. He helped to build that place. He certainly wasn't the only person but he was a significant piece of it.

And on the same token, when he went to Caltech - he came from an extremely humble background and he's lucky to have made it out of that background. When he went to Caltech he was very smart and ambitious but super green. I mean, his education that he got here was, I think, pretty modest. OAC was a land grand institution, it was focused on practical stuff, and he had far greater aspirations than that.

And he got into Caltech - one of my favorite stories about Pauling is that, so he's been accepted to Caltech and the summer before he goes down there he's 00:59:00working for the Department of Transportation and he's a pavement inspector. And so he's out in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, inspecting pavement, and living in a tent. But before he embarked upon this job he wrote to A.A. Noyes, who was the head of the Chemistry section of Caltech - there are basically three people who started Caltech and Noyes was one of them. And Pauling says, "I'm coming to grad school, how do I become a grad student?" And Noyes is writing a textbook and he sends him a manuscript version of the textbook and tells him, "Do all the problems in this book." And so that summer in his tent, with a lantern, Pauling is doing this work and learning how to become a grad student and how to become a scientist.

And so he goes Caltech and he's there for a few years and at the end of that he gets this Guggenheim fellowship to go to Europe to learn quantum mechanics as it's basically being invented. And then he comes back to the United States, applies quantum mechanics to structural chemistry, publishes a series of papers 01:00:00that become The Nature of the Chemical Bond in 1939, and that's Nobel-quality work at that point. And it's a very short period of time during which this process is moving forward, but for me it begins in that tent.

In any case, Caltech was hugely important for Pauling and vice-versa, and I think that would be a book that somebody should write; I'd love to see that. That's not a series of blog posts.

So, one of the things that we've done a lot is to talk about his associations with places. We've done a series on his tenure at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, which was rocky at best and short-lived. Same thing with UCSD. We've got a series coming out soon about his time at Stanford. We've done a lot on his relationship with Oregon Agricultural College too. But it's harder to wrap yourself around the relationship with Caltech because he was there for so long and so much happened.

But I think I figured out a way that we can start to engage with that a little bit, and that's something that's being worked on right now, and that's to talk 01:01:00about his work as an administrator. So he was the head of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering for a long time and he was in charge of a lot of grant money and he had an army of grad students who worked for him. And part of his success story is that he was a very able administrator, and obviously a brilliant thinker. So he'd come up with an idea and give it a grad student, and that was that grad student's entire career basically. They would pursue that as a grad student and continue to pursue it for the rest of their career. It was something that would emerge from this yellow piece of paper that he would give to people, saying "you can work on this if you want, you don't have to." It was implied that you should. [laughs]

But he published 1,100 papers and you don't do that without help. And there are plenty of co-authors there and people who went on to win Nobel Prizes - the Pauling tree is vast and significant. So I'm interested in that; I'm interested 01:02:00in his ability to be a leader of men. And it was men, because Caltech didn't allow women. But his ability to attract grant money and how this all flows into creating this career that is so remarkable. And a lot of it happened at Caltech; a lot of the best stuff happened at Caltech.

TEM: What kind of records do they have at Caltech about him?

CP: I don't think they have many. I think they have records about Caltech that reference him. I don't know - I think that Caltech was very interested in his papers and probably wasn't super happy they came here, but they would have their own institutional records. I think there's a decent chance that we have institutional records they don't have. I think there's probably small slices of Caltech history that are in the Pauling Papers that are not at Caltech. I couldn't say that for sure. But, I mean, Caltech is a world-class archive. 01:03:00They've got just crazy collections there. So I'm sure he's reasonably well-documented on their end as well.

TEM: Is there overlap? Not personnel-wise, but do you talk to the people at Caltech?

CP: No. I've never been there either. I'd love to go. The primary - there was overlap before I came. Judith Goodstein was the director of the Caltech Archives for a long time, I think. And there was a symposium that happened in 1995 at OSU after Pauling died. It was a memorial symposium and it was a big deal. It was a multi-day symposium and they brought in a lot of speakers. Francis Crick actually spoke; he was the keynote speaker for that, so it was a pretty big deal. But she came up for that and she gave a talk, and I know that she and Cliff Mead, they had a correspondence that mostly preceded me. My interaction 01:04:00with Caltech mostly has been in terms of negotiating our use of their images. So they definitely have a very rich set of photo collections that intersect with Pauling and we've used some of them for our websites. So just sorting out those details, but that's pretty much been it.

TEM: Somewhat of a right turn. Has it always been the Linus Pauling Blog? Or how have you incorporated or negotiated Ava Helen's story?

CP: Oh, she's all over it. Yeah. So it is the Pauling Blog and interestingly enough, it is both the PaulingBlog with no space and the Pauling Blog with a space, again for search engine optimization purposes. [laughter] So you'll be 01:05:00able to find us either way.

No, I think of it as Linus Pauling, his story and the story of his world. And she was a hugely important part of that world. So we've done a lot of writing about her and I intend to do more. Around the time that Mina Carson's biography was published we did a whole bunch of posts about her. And, you know, they were together constantly, especially after the kids were out of the house. And so she's part of many stories about their travels. Actually, we did a bunch of posts about their world travels together, covered every continent that they went to, which was all of them except for Antarctica.

So she's definitely there. And anything related to family is going to involve her as well. We've done stuff about her specific activism as well. She's an interesting person. She was very smart, for sure, she came from a very different background than Linus did. She came from a really intellectually stimulating 01:06:00environment on a lot of levels, she had a ton of siblings. She was also the child essentially of divorce, which is not something that happened a whole lot back then. But she encountered a lot of things that you and I have been talking about in the class that we've been teaching, which is expectations of women in the early twentieth century. So she came here as a Home Economics student, and she met this guy that she was really keen on and they got married and then they had four kids. And whether it was expressly or not, her role was to take care of the house and take care of the kids, and to sort of - I don't know if stifle is the right word, but she didn't pursue some things that she might have pursued otherwise in her younger years.

Once the kids were out of the house - and one of the kids was out of the house at the age of six, because they sent him off to boarding school, which was Crellin - she started to do these things that she would probably have done 01:07:00before. She was a woman of no insubstantial ego, as was her husband of course. They both were pretty impressed with themselves in a lot of ways, as well they should have been. But she did a lot of interesting things and we've done a fair amount of writing on that too. But I would like to do more. I want to dig into her time here more, I think we could do a better job of that, because I don't know a whole lot about it. But I think we could find out more.

So we've certainly written about her. We've written about a lot of Pauling's colleagues too - colleagues and proteges. One of the things that I do is I subscribe to the New York Times obituary RSS feed, I still use a news reader. And the reason why is because people that Pauling knew, die. And it's been [laughter]

TEM: That was an awkward time for me to laugh, but it's just the way that you 01:08:00said it. "Well, they die."

CP: It's been fruitful for us, this trend. He died in '94 and he had lots of people in his world and they have also passed on. So, I mean we sort of laugh at it, but it's also a way to pay tribute to people who oftentimes went on to do extraordinary things as well.

And something else that I want to do is to really dig into that colleague side a little bit more, and particularly to dig into the vitamin C colleagues, because we haven't done a whole lot there and it's a colorful group of people, as you might guess. And I don't know that - I'm still kind of looking for posts that are about people or topics that haven't been covered to death elsewhere, because people will find it on our blog and nowhere else. And I think that there's possibilities there.

TEM: How do you track that? How do you track the people that he interacted with? 01:09:00How do you track the posts that you've written about?

CP: It's just all in my head at this point. I mean, again, the experience of processing the papers; I'll remember somebody's name from having done so. I won't know anything about them, but if I see their obituary it will ring a bell with me and I'll learn who they were. So that, and we have a list of all the posts that we've done, which is now fifteen pages long. That list. So I do refer to that from time to time, because I've forgotten some of the stuff that we've done.

TEM: How has your relationship with the blog changed over time?

CP: I've become much more invested in it and I'm very proud of it. Again, we talked about how it was part of that ecosystem before, with this massive Pauling effort happening department-wide, and now that it is the only thing that's being done within SCARC, I feel more invested in it. I appreciate it more than I did 01:10:00before too. And having done it for ten years, I don't think I would have ever expected that. Blogs don't live that long. And next week will be post 666, so ominous, but we'll move beyond that and we'll keep going. And as I say, I've got lots of ideas and we've got the resources to continue to do it, so I'm looking forward to more. I don't know how much longer it's going to last, but I'm looking forward to more. It certainly has no end date in sight.

TEM: Before I asked you to do this interview - before I had the brilliant idea of interviewing you about the blog - what were you going to do to celebrate?

CP: I was just going to do what we did yesterday. So we have a student graphic designer who made a poster, and she and I talked about this a while ago, and I 01:11:00gave her kind of the kernel of the idea and then she made it, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out. And I just was going to put the poster up [on the blog] the way that we did, and say a few words, and that would be that.

I also had in the back of my mind something that I did do yesterday which was to print out fifty copies of the poster and wander around campus and put them up. And it was actually really interesting to do that in part because, there's a lot of buildings on campus and the posters didn't go up in every single one of them by any stretch. So I was thinking about the different buildings that intersected with him and his legacy on some level, and it turns out there's an awful lot of them. I mean, you have the science stuff, the engineering buildings - because he was an engineering student. But you also have social sciences and liberal arts, there's an intersection there. But you also have places like what's now called Furman Hall, it used to be called Education Hall, before that it was the Chem Shack, which is where he met Ava Helen. And they have a little plaque in the room in which they met. So now you wouldn't necessarily associate Pauling with 01:12:00education, the study of education, necessarily, but there's a poster there for a reason.

And within the sciences too. You know, he was a chemist kind of - well, he definitely was a chemist, but he wasn't just a chemist. He was a physicist and he was super important to molecular biology too. So I kept going to these different science buildings thinking, "oh, this has relevance here too." So it was interesting. It was not a typical day for me to wander around campus for a couple of hours and put up posters, but it was a useful meditation on ten years of blogging, I guess. And whether or not anybody sees the poster and goes to the blog, maybe they will, maybe they won't. I don't honestly really care. But I just kind of wanted to do it. I wanted to celebrate this anniversary in my own way, which is fairly understated, I guess.

TEM: I do want to ask you the favorite posts questions, because you just have to do that. I can give you an arbitrary number - we can do ten posts. You can read 01:13:00off all fifteen pages.

CP: [laughs] That would be compelling stuff.

TEM: [laughs] What are your favorites?

CP: Well we talked about some of them already, the quasicrystals stuff, I think, I'm really proud of that and really proud of the person who did that. And the stuff about his sons, I think, is really good too. Trevor actually wrote a series of posts about Pauling's theory of anesthesia that is, I don't know if authoritative would be the right word, that might be overstating it, but it definitely gets referred to a lot. It turns out there is no accepted theory of anesthesia, which is kind of scary. They just know it works [laughs], they don't really know why. But Pauling had an idea about it that he pursued for a little while and Trevor wrote that up.

We did a lot of stuff on Roger Hayward early on. He's a really interesting 01:14:00person. He was Pauling's illustrator, scientific illustrator, for a bunch of papers and a couple of books too. But he was just a fascinating individual. We have his papers here now as well. We developed a relationship with essentially the executor of Hayward's estate - Hayward died in '79. But developed a good relationship with this individual and the papers came to us from Canada, from eastern Canada, of all places. And we did a lot of work with them; we put together a nice website related to Hayward.

But Hayward was just a fascinating individual, he was a true polymath, a real Renaissance man. He was a trained architect and he came to the west - he was from the East Coast, he came to the West Coast like right before the stock market crashed in 1929, and then architect work went down the tubes; there were no buildings to be built in the Great Depression. So he just came up with other ways to make a living which is mostly inventing stuff and he had like puppet shows in his house, and just all kinds of crazy stuff. And he was an artist. But 01:15:00he was really interested in science too and he was in L.A., so he became friendly with Caltech people and he spent time at the observatory, and just through word of mouth developed this relationship with Pauling. And somehow was able to create this career as a scientific illustrator; the evolution from architect to scientific illustrator of significant consequence was really interesting to chart. So that was pretty early on, we did a bunch of stuff on Hayward and that stuck with me for sure.

We've done a lot of stuff on Pauling's books, specific books. So we did a series on Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, which I think was his second book. But it was a very influential textbook, basically. And we did a series on The Nature of the Chemical Bond, not so much the stuff that was in it, but how it was written. And I think that is important work that we did there, because I don't think that's been written about very much at all, the process of writing this book that was so important. That was a series of posts. We did another one more recently on 01:16:00General Chemistry which was another textbook that made a huge impact. And again, it was mostly on how it was written and then talking a little bit about the impact that it made, rather than the content of the book itself. So that's been fruitful.

We did a series on Pauling's appearances before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which happened in 1960; in July and October of 1960. So this was in 2010 on the fiftieth anniversary, we did a series of posts in July and October of 2010, documenting the specifics of that. And it's a very important moment in his life, because it was basically a line in the sand. I mean, he had done a lot of very visible anti-nuclear, anti-war activism throughout the late '40s, and throughout the '50s; and getting harassed, getting badgered from 01:17:00multiple angles throughout that time. Finally gets called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which is basically the Senate version of HUAC, and they're like, "give us the names of the people who helped you circulate your bomb test petition or we're going to throw you in jail." And he says, "no." And so they go into recess and he has these few months between July and October to figure out what he's going to do. And so he's got lawyers of course, but he also uses the media very effectively to make his case. And by the time he gets called back in October, they ask him, "give us these names" and he says "no," and they back down. So he called their bluff, basically.

But he was very embittered by this process and the one time that he ever talks about running for elected office is right after one of those hearings. We have it - it's basically on the back of the envelope - and his handwriting is shaky, 01:18:00it's not his normal handwriting, you can tell he's super angry. But he says that "this country has failed, it's leadership has failed, and I'm the person to change things and I'm going to run for President." Did not last long, thankfully, because he would have been a terrible politician. But that's the one time that you can see these things. Being able to make those connections is a lot of fun as an archivist.

There's another example actually that - we probably have written about this, maybe obliquely if not directly. But Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963 and the reception at Caltech was very chilly, because things were not going well at that point and he left Caltech right after he picked up the medal basically. But we found this random little flyer that said something about "Biology coffee hour" and had a day but not a date. And I don't know why, but when I was working with the collection way back when, I saw this and I thought, "there's something about this; there's some reason why he kept this." And it's because, we've later 01:19:00intuited, that that was the celebration that was held for him at Caltech. So when he won the Nobel Chemistry Prize in 1954, his colleagues all got together and they literally put on a stage play where they sang and danced in his honor. There were chemists up on stage [laughter] singing and dancing songs of their own creation in his honor. And there's newspaper articles about this and Pauling says, "this is the happiest day of my life." Fast-forward to 1963 and the celebration that's held for him is a coffee hour held by the Biology department, which wasn't even his own department. And he kept that for a reason. That was a token of something; a token of a moment for him. So that's another example of the small joys that one can accrue as an archivist.

But yeah, back to your question, we did another series in 2013 - we did a series 01:20:00about the Nobel Peace Prize, and not necessarily about the work that he did for it, but the process of receiving it. So we did a post, and I think it was in August '63 was when the announcement went out, we wrote a post in August 2013 about that story. Pauling is actually at his ranch at Big Sur, which doesn't have a phone, and he was there with a couple of friends and they were going to celebrate the implementation of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which he was instrumental in bringing about. And so they're there and they're about ready to pop their champagne, and the ranger from nearby drives down their road and says, "you have a phone call," basically. [laughter] And so he has to go back to the ranger station and he finds out that he's won the Nobel Peace Prize. And he said they didn't ever get around to opening the champagne because he was too busy talking to the media in the ranger station on the phone. So that's how he finds out about it. And then from there we chart the whole progression of getting 01:21:00ready to go to Oslo and then the actual award ceremony itself and then coming back to Caltech and how things weren't great. And I thought that was pretty good stuff too. It's nice to be able to take that real granular look at particular moments in his life.

We've done a couple of things that I had always wanted to do and it took me a while to build up the nerve to do it, but then I decided that this is the Pauling Blog and we do what we want. So we wrote a series of posts about his house at Big Sur, which might seem kind of trivial on some level, but it actually was super important. Deer Flat Ranch at Big Sur was his sanctuary from just a crazy life. And so we talked about how they bought the property and the actual architecture of the house and building the house, and how they had various problems with the architecture, and I thought that was fun. And at some point later we received an email from somebody whose job it is with the National Park Service - it can't be their whole job - to find properties of consequence 01:22:00to the history of science in the U.S. to possibly preserve; to find, you know, National Historic whatever status for. And they wanted to know more about this, and it was based on this series of blog posts that we had written. So that was pretty cool.

And then last summer we did a series on Pauling's clothes. So we became a photo blog for a little while. And I had a student - we've got about 6,000 photos in the Pauling collection, and I just had him look through them and pick out pictures of Pauling in different outfits, basically. I told him to look for things that represented how he typically looked but also things that were just kind of fun. Pauling definitely had a sense of style, there's no question about that. I would think it's probably an overstatement to say that he had an interest in clothes, necessarily, but he had a sense of style for sure, and he had a real showmanship to him as well. The beret, I'm sure, is the most famous 01:23:00icon in that regard, and it was interesting to hear Linus Pauling Jr.'s point of view on this. I don't know if it's accurate or not, but Pauling used to wear a pork pie hat, as did Robert Oppenheimer. And Pauling and Oppenheimer were buddies for a while and then they weren't buddies, and that's because Oppenheimer asked Ava Helen out basically; if she wanted to go to Mexico with him. And that was the end of that. Linus Jr. suggests that Pauling switched to the beret at that point because he didn't want to wear the same hat as Oppenheimer. I don't know if that's true or not, but it's a good story.

TEM: I did love the series on clothes.

CP: Yeah.

TEM: Something for everyone.

CP: Yeah, me too.

But, you know, there's been all kinds of stuff. Another fun one was - I don't know how this ever happened, but there was somebody who wrote a newspaper column in one of the papers in southern California, in which he alleged, or maybe he had heard from somewhere, "sources say..." So once upon a time, to graduate from 01:24:00Oregon Agricultural College you had to pass a swimming test, and this person for some reason took the time to allege to Pauling didn't pass his swimming test. He graduated without passing his swimming test. [laughter] And I took the opportunity to rebut that because I didn't have actual evidence that he had passed his swimming test, but I had strong circumstantial evidence that he could swim. So I wrote that post and patted myself on the back. [laughter] Engaging in a minor controversy.

TEM: There's the UFO one, what are some of the other silly/fun posts? What are some of the ones that stand out in your head as silly/fun posts?

CP: Well, we did a bunch of posts early on that were derived from a book that 01:25:00Cliff Mead and Tom Hager edited. It was the Pauling centenary volume. It's called Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker. And I was involved with that book in a lot of ways, but I was involved in one particularly specific way, and that was to find material for a chapter called "Facets." So Pauling once described himself as "a multifaceted crystal with many dimensions." And so the book was divided up along the lines that one might normally expect - Science, Peace - but then Facets was just fun things that we had found from the collection, and I reused a lot of those for the blog. So there was one about Pauling's beard. He had a beard for a while and then he and Ava Helen got on a train and they were going across the country for whatever reason, and he decided to shave his beard on the train. And evidently - again, who knows if this is a 01:26:00true story or not - but he's sitting with Ava Helen in some sort of public area on the train and then he goes and shaves his beard, and then he comes back to the seat and then they start making out, basically. And he wanted to do that because then people might think, "who's this guy who just swooped in?" [laughter] So there's that.

We did another one about Christmas. And this was not from Facets but it was from a story that Linus Jr. told. So the Paulings had this really weird Christmas tradition where they would not even acknowledge the existence of Christmas until, essentially, Christmas day. So the house looked like it always looked through Christmas Eve, and then after the kids went to bed they would set up Christmas. So Linus Jr. talks about going out with his dad on Christmas Eve night and essentially stealing a Christmas tree from a stand that had shut down [laughs] and roping it to the top of the car and driving back and setting it all 01:27:00up, and setting up Christmas in the house. And so the kids would wake up and all the sudden this was magical Christmasland. And I asked him later if they took it down immediately and he said no, they would leave it up until New Years. But things like that have been fun.

TEM: What did you think I was going to ask you in this Pauling Blog oral history?

CP: Well, I wrote down a whole bunch of ideas about posts that stood out to me, so I guess you were going to ask me about that.

TEM: Did you get to talk about them?

CP: Probably, a lot of them. But I don't know if you want to know more about me and Linus. There's one thing I want to say about Linus Pauling, and I sort of alluded to this earlier. So the other part of my life besides Linus Pauling, professionally, has been oral history. And I did a big project with a bunch of OSU people, and one thing that emerged for me was a theme about how things have 01:28:00changed. Things have changed at this place a lot, and mostly for the better. But there's a story about Pauling that haunts me a little bit. His dad died when he was nine years old, and at that point little Linus has to start working, so he does little kid jobs. He delivers milk from the back of a horse-drawn wagon, he delivers newspapers, he works as a pin boy at a bowling alley for a little while. As he gets a little bit older, he gets a job as a drill press operator in Lake Oswego and it pays well and his mom wants him to make a career out of that. But he has this interest in science and he wants to pursue that, and so he does. So he goes to Oregon Agricultural College. He did so because it was free. He went to Oregon Agricultural College because that was the only place he could afford, and barely. I mean, when he was here he was working full-time and he was effectively homeless for a term; he didn't have a permanent address for one term. And he sent money back to his mom, she was supposed to save it for him, 01:29:00she didn't. She had to spend it on herself to keep herself afloat. He had to quit school for a while, worked for the Department of Transportation - the pavement job - just to live. And again, that paid well and his mom wanted him to make a career out of that. But he didn't, he pursued science because he had this passion for it.

But again, Oregon Agricultural College, for its flaws, for it not being a super rigorous academic environment at that time, was accessible for somebody like him. And it is the bridge for him from this life as a drill press operator to what he became. And in these interviews that I did with people, over and over again they talk about, "things have changed, things are better here with one exception: college is so much more expensive now." And many of them came here because they could afford it - that's why they came here. And it was definitely the case with him. And it just haunts me to think about another Linus Pauling not pursuing the life that they could pursue - being the drill press operator or 01:30:00whatever - because they don't have access to that bridge. So I've been thinking about that a fair amount, and I guess that's one thing that you couldn't have possibly asked me about [laughs], but I just told you.

TEM: Well it speaks, I think, to the other hat, one of the other hats that you wear. That you hear lots of stories too; the oral history side.

CP: Yeah and there is a connection between those two hats. So I grew to know Linus Jr. pretty well because he came here a lot. He was and is the keeper of the flame for his father. He's getting pretty old now, but for a long, long - and he lives in Hawaii - but for a long, long time he would come here whenever we would have an event and I would talk to him, and got to know him pretty well. And he would tell stories and they were stories I had never heard before, and I thought to myself, "I know a lot about Linus Pauling from his papers, but this 01:31:00is a different angle that I'm getting from his son, and somebody should really sit down with this guy at some point and record this stuff." And then I realized at some point that that was going to have to be me if it was going to be anybody. And so I applied for some money from this library to get oral history training with the ambition of interviewing Linus Pauling Jr. So I got that training in 2011, spring of '11, and then in the fall started interviewing other people who didn't live in Hawaii, that were scientists mostly that knew Linus Pauling, because that was my connection, that was my bridge to oral history. And then the next spring, the library basically agreed to split the difference with me to go halfsies on a trip to Hawaii.

I went there for a week and I interviewed Linus Jr. six times and I interviewed his wife once and came back with like eighteen hours of content. His house is on top of the biggest hill that overlooks Honolulu, and it's got like a two-hundred degree view of Honolulu. It's an architecturally significant house. The water 01:32:00that it has is all rainwater, and it's completely silent. There's nothing there to make any noise except for birds and wind, basically. So I'd drive up the hill every day and sit down and record with him for a couple hours, and get these memories. And it was just a super intense experience. But I'm very proud of that; very proud of having had that vision and having executed it. And that led to a million other things. I mean, we've done a ton of oral history since then and, for me, it all started there. And so it's been two hats but they've been connected in a way, and I'm pleased about that; pleased with how it's gone.

TEM: It's so interesting to think of that setting being the expectation that you would have - not for how an oral history would go, but what an early experience to have. The luxury of quiet, the luxury of that much time with someone to tell 01:33:00the story that you knew so much about from a very different angle.

CP: Yeah. He did have a phone that the ringer was "Ode to Joy," which would go off every now and then [laughs], so that would change the dynamic slightly. But it was an extremely intense experience. That's the word that I would use for it, because he had certainly never done that. I mean, oral history is an intense experience just in its own way, but to do that level of depth and to talk to somebody for that long and ask them questions I'm sure they've never been asked before, it was very intense. By the end of it I was pretty drained. We went out to dinner afterwards, after we had finished this - went to a nice Japanese restaurant - and it was fun. But by the end of that, I was kind of ready to just get away. I needed to get away from that circumstance.


But we came back and we transcribed it all. We created an index, we created a family tree that was relative to Linus Jr., and that's a resource that has been used for at least two books that I know of now. So yeah, good stuff.

TEM: What else did you want to say?

CP: [laughs] I think that's probably most of it. It's been...well, so I'll perform a memory story for you now. [laughter]

TEM: And we will use this in our class.

CP: Yeah. This is something else I want to say. I want to tell the story of how I got hired at Special Collections.

TEM: That was actually first on my list on my phone.

CP: Oh yeah?

TEM: If I had had it on a real piece of paper, I would have seen it at the top.

CP: So I grew up in eastern Oregon, was a good student; very good student in 01:35:00high school. Wanted to go to Stanford and applied to various places. Stanford - so I was going to see Schindler's List. This has nothing to do with anything, I just want to tell this story. I'm performing a memory story for you. My buddy and I were going to see Schindler's List, we were really into movies at that point. And right before we left my house, I checked the mail and saw the thin envelope from Stanford and thought, "that's not good." Opened it up, wasn't accepted - "didn't exhibit national leadership," that's what it said. That was my downfall; no national leadership. So I sent to see Schindler's List and have no memory of that movie at all, because I was just very disappointed that I wasn't going to Stanford; that's what I really wanted to do.

So the back-up plan was Berkeley. Berkeley accepted me, they were going to give me a package of sorts. My grandparents were still alive and they lived in San Francisco; that's where I was born, my family has deep roots in San Francisco. 01:36:00And so I was going to move to Berkeley, live there for a year, establish residence, and then go to school and it would be great. I'd have a great experience at Berkeley.

Well, in the meantime I got a full ride to OSU. I got a Presidential Scholarship. And I did not want to come here; I had no interest in coming here. My parents told me that, "you're going to go to OSU. You have a full ride, don't be ridiculous." I was ridiculous. I was eighteen years old and naive, and had no concept of what it meant to have a full ride. So I came to OSU and unwillingly. Drove down I-5 and remember passing the Enchanted Forest and thinking to myself, "I hope we never get there; I hope we never get to Corvallis," because I had a very bad opinion of OSU and rightfully so. This university was probably at its worst at about the time that I was here. Not entirely through its own fault - a property tax measure passed in 1990 and it decimated higher ed across the board, and OSU was not spared. So things were bad, morale was bad, programs had been cut, classified employees went on strike 01:37:00twice while I was a student, football team was terrible, the football stadium was a high school stadium, and the food in the dorms was no good.

But I was in college and so was everybody else that was in college around me, and we made great friends and have very fond memories. I was a science major my first year. I had a really good physics teacher in high school, I thought I wanted to do that. And academically I realized that it was going to be a tough slog for me because my math just wasn't strong enough. Meanwhile, I was really attracted to the world of ideas and decided to pursue that, and became a history and sociology double major, got a political science minor and came one class shy of getting an Econ minor because the class was at 8:00 in the morning and I couldn't go to that class. [laughter] It was just too early. And I was also in the first cohort of the University Honors College. That started in '95 and I was 01:38:00very active with the Honors College.

Anyway, in the midst of all this, I met a girl who was my college girlfriend, and she was from Nepal. And in the summer of '96 she decided that she was going to go back to Nepal the next summer and asked me if I wanted to come with her, and various friends of ours and her sisters. And I said, "yeah, sounds great." So I needed to get a job at that point, and I was really into movies, and the job that I really wanted - so this was 1996, so this was two years after Pulp Fiction is released, Quentin Tarantino is the king of the world and obviously very influential on somebody who cares about movies at that point who also happens to be a nineteen year old boy.

So the romantic vision that one has for oneself at that point is to work at a movie store and to provide learned advice to those who come in and point them towards the movie that's going to change their life. And that was going to be 01:39:00me. So there was an opening at Hollywood Video in downtown Corvallis. It's a place that doesn't exist anymore, but if you worked there you had to wear a red bow tie and a red cummerbund, and I was all about that. So you had to fill out the application, the application had an essay that was attached to it, and I spent some time thinking about my essay and dropped various names of Japanese and French New Wave directors that I liked, etc., etc. And I felt like I was a shoe-in for the job; never heard back.

The back-up plan was this job that was open in the library at Special Collections. And I applied for it simultaneous to the Hollywood Video job, and walked in and didn't actually have an interview with Cliff, he just hired me on the spot when he looked at my resume. My GPA was what he cared about; he would always ask you what your GPA was. But I would not have taken that job if I had gotten the job at Hollywood Video. That's what I wanted to do. And if they had 01:40:00only called me back, my life would have been very different. So [laughs]...

TEM: Did you save a copy of your Hollywood Video...your essay.

CP: No, I should have. I should have. I wish I had. That would be a useful document to have on hand now, just in case life takes a different turn, I could go back to that plan again.

TEM: Well, there aren't video stores now.

CP: Yeah. But I think about that a lot. It's funny the twists and turns that one's life can take based on small seemingly insignificant moments like that. So I started working here as a student in '96, was hired full-time in '99 and have never left. The only job I've ever had really, since picking up trash by the side of the road.

TEM: Did you go to Nepal?

CP: Yeah, it was great. It was life-changing; it really was. It was a profound experience.

TEM: How long were you there?

CP: The whole summer. We lived with a family for the most part but did a little touring around India as well. We actually did some research while we were there 01:41:00too. We wrote a paper on - well, so my girlfriend did the interviewing, I don't know what I did, I helped out somehow. But we interviewed women about their lives basically and wrote a paper about, it was called "Negotiating the Household Economy: A Case Study of Nepal," or something like that. And we learned a lot about domestic violence and, like, police brutality for women that were trying to sell stuff on the side of the road. Nepal's an amazing place on a lot of levels but it's a very hard place to live. [laughs] And we learned a lot about that. But we wrote a paper and got an award for that from the Sociology department, so that was nice. It was the first time I'd ever gone anywhere really, and it was the other side of the world. And I look back on it now and regret some of how I approached the trip. I would certainly be better prepared 01:42:00now to do something like that than I was then. But maybe it happened that way for a reason; it was just very eye-opening. Never saw the Himalayas once because we were there in the monsoon season. So I see photos of places I've been during the non-monsoon season and it looks like a completely different place because there's these gigantic mountains in the background. But not when I was there. [laughs]

TEM: It's sort of interesting that that was an early study for you given what we've focused on now.

CP: Yeah. And so another thing I did in college was write for the University Honors College newspaper. It was a quarterly paper, I think. And as we have talked about in our class that we've taught, this was a time of significant upheaval and change for women on campus, and I wound up writing about that, as it turns out, for this newspaper. I never really necessarily thought of myself as being really focused on women's issues, it just was something that sort of 01:43:00came up. My point of view at that time period was definitely far to the left, and that was sort of my persona that I was wearing in this newspaper column that I would write. I felt like the Honors College needed somebody [laughs], a firebrand or whatever, to be talking about the ills of the world and presenting some sort of radical perspective. So I went out of my way to be that person. My column's title was "Fireside Chat."

TEM: They might have stolen that.

CP: Yeah, they did. They did do that. Because another thing I did do was, I don't know why this happened, but I organized a forum with Paul Risser, the president at the time. So I organized it. I contacted him, I did all of the arrangements for the event itself, and hardly anybody came. But I did it. And then not long thereafter, he started to have these regular meetings with the 01:44:00faculty and the student body, and he called it "Fireside Chat." And I'm positive that he did some background research on me and stole my column title. But what are you gonna do - they paid for my education, so.

TEM: Did you interview him?

CP: No, Jan Dilg did.

TEM: You could have brought it up; [laughter] it's too late now.

CP: Yeah, if I'd only thought of it. That's unfortunate, but... Yeah, OSU's been a big part of my life and that embittered eighteen year old driving down I-5 has transformed into a forty-two year old that is very proud to be here and has benefited significantly from being a Beaver, if not always a Beaver fan [laughs], but from being a Beaver.

TEM: But you're a die-hard, so that means that even when it's not easy to be a Beaver fan...

CP: Indeed. Yeah, it's important. You learn a lot of lessons being a Beaver fan.


TEM: I feel like I want a profound ending, but maybe that's...

CP: I think that's it right there. "You Learn a Lot of Lessons Being a Beaver Fan: The Story of the Pauling Blog."

TEM: Nice. [laughter]