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In a personal communication to me (Craig Fees, Archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust), the late and genuinely great psychiatrist and analytical psychotherapist Harry Wilmer once indicated that he rated Dennie Briggs as a practitioner higher than Maxwell Jones, both of whom he had known and worked with. Dennie for his part held Max in very high esteem, in a professionally and personally entertwined life which ultimately resulted in Dennie's "A Life Well Lived: Maxwell Jones - A Memoir", published by Jessica Kingsley in 2002 (see here). Here is the publisher's description:
Beginning with their first meeting in 1956 and ending with Maxwell Jones' death in 1990, A Life Well Lived follows the growth of a friendship between two key figures in social psychiatry and tracks the evolution of therapeutic communities from their experimental beginnings to the established practices that exist today. As a close friend and frequent collaborator, Briggs is able to recount in detail Jones' revolutionary work in mental hospitals, prisons, communities and schools, and offers a rare and engaging insight into the mind of one of the most important pioneers in the therapeutic community field.
Underlying the Memoir was a long dialogue between Max and Dennie, and a long effort by Maxwell Jones himself to write his autobiography. How do I know this? Because Dennie and Max carried on a great deal of their dialogue on recordings, and because Dennie has passed his copies of the recordings - some going back into the 1960s - to the Archive, where they are in the process of being catalogued and digitised.
The reel to reel and audiocassette tapes are just part of a 44 box consignment of archives and memorabilia which was picked up from Dennie's home in the San Francisco Bay Area on April 13th 2016, left American soil on May 26th via the Port of Los Angeles, was devanned from the ship at Southampton, England, on June 29th, and delivered to the Archive on July 5th, a week shy of three months after heading out of Dennie's front door: with many paperwork adventures punctuating the trail. Correspondence between Dennie and the Archive shows that the journey actually began much earlier - as long ago as 2011: It takes a long time to contain a rich and varied personal and professional life, and then to hand it over to someone else's care; and it takes a special courage and generosity to do it while you are still alive and kicking and able to enrich the collection further through a dialogue with the cataloguing archivist, and with any researcher courageous and insightful enough to come along and to engage with the material as it emerges from its boxes. 43 boxes and a mailing tube, to be accurate.
Even speaking as an archivist who has taken in many remarkable collections, this one is breathtaking: Maxwell Jones, in full flow, discussing and debating with social work students at North London Polytechnic in 1972 (!), and in 1966 seminar with teachers (!); a 1955 recording at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland, California (!); a Chino, California, prison therapeutic community community meeting from 1961 (!); a spoon from the mess when Dennie first joined the Navy; the first watch, given to him by his father; working notes and papers of all kinds; books and cuttings; photographs and slides; objects and ephemera; blueprints, diaries, and posters....
Stay tuned. Better yet, tune in to Dennie. Come by and visit, and engage. Help us to explore and add understanding to these precious and often mysterious things through a dialogue about his collection with Dennie himself. And don't miss his own website and blog: denniebriggs.com.
BELOW: Dennie Briggs with boxes. Note the gradually depleting collection of audiocassettes in the rack behind him. Multiply the stack of boxes his hand is resting on by five, and then take away one: That is the mountain of personal and professional material Dennie has saved and sent on.
See Dennie' Website and Blog HERE
For a bit on Harry Wilmer, SEE HERE
Introducing a 7" reel to reel audio tape from the Dennie Briggs Collection, accession number 2016.055/03/21/rr/01
Back of tape box
3-3/4 ips Mono
U.S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California
2. Staff Meeting by Dennie Briggs
October 17, 1955
Background: Dr Wilmer is away. Dennie Briggs substitutes in the community meeting for hium. Dr Bolen presides at staff meeting.
000Group opens with leadership and how to deal with psychotic officers (Navy physician and Marine Lieutenant). Themes: old vs new navy (technology, new roles for personnel); respect.
0255 Seating arrangements.
0360 Theme of latent homosexuality of marine officer being played out on the ward by his behavior. Losing one's self-respect or pride and "place" (i.e., in the new navy).
Summary: Trying to find oneself in the changing social structure of the country as well as the navy. Have not yet defined new roles in navy or in society; need to tolerate ambiguities and uncertainties. Dennie gives example of AWOL medical patient being apprehended the previous night while he was OOD and the authorities wanting him confined on Ward 55.
Front of tape box
3-3/4 ips Mono [Master 02]
U.S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California
1. Staff Meeting by Harry A. Wilmer, MD
October 18, 1955
Background: Dr Wilmer has been away for the first time since the therapeutic community was established. Dennie Briggs replaced him as group leader. Dr Bolen (psychiatric resident) presides at staff meeting. The Pacific Fleet Combat Camera Group are present filming the community for one month. Note: (They are later all killed in an air crash).
0015 Discussion of seating arrangements and staff checks on reality (Dr Wilmer sees the ward as different from when he left it). Continuity of daily community meetings.
0130 Group opened with seven minutes of silence; reactions to Dr. Wilmer's absence. Importance of patients and staff present on time at community meetings. How do you handle an omnipotent, sadistic member? Leadership: Effects of psychotic officers on the group: how do they recuperate?
Theme: Some things in life one never gets answers to.
Explanatory note attached to box by Dennie Briggs, 2016
U S Naval Hospital Oakland California. October 1955.
Two staff meetings of Harry Wilmer's Therapeutic Community
1. Dr. Wilmer is away for the week. Dennie substitutes for him in the community meetings. Dr Bolen, a psychiatric resident leads staff meeting
2. Dr Wilmer returns.
Note: On the September 19th tape, Dr Wilmer "OKs" the tapes' release.