Category Archives: history of medicine

Capturing Mid-Twentieth Century Medicine in Art

I’ve been reading some history of medicine and anthropology on re-emerging infectious disease lately. The label, ‘re-emerging’ infectious disease, is a response to the mid-20th century attitudes when eradication was the goal for many, if not most, pathogens.  The eradication of smallpox will stand out all the more awesome because we now know it will be a rarity. Polio is still so close, and yet so far. These pathogens are ‘re-emerging’ because they were thought to be beat, conquered or at the very least managed. It was an age of confidence, some might say over confidence.

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This picture is floating around the internet. I don’t know where it originally came from or where this sculpture is located. It just seems to typify that era so well. The buff man of medicine holding back death itself. I guess its supposed to portray strength and confidence. This era is foreign enough to me that it’s just off-putting, such bravado and over-confidence. I doubt that few of us who became professionals in the era of HIV, much less SARS or ebola or the ‘re-emergence’ of old foes like pandemic influenza,  cholera and plague can understand the level of confidence that prevailed in the mid-20th century.

Does anyone know more about this sculpture or where it came from? It seems somehow familiar to something I seen in St. Louis, but not the figure of death. It looks like the 1950s or 1960s to me?

Update: Thanks to the wonder of twitter, Heather Battles found it for me. It’s at the Fulton County Health Services, 99 Jesse Hill, Jr. Drive, SE Atlanta, GA 303034 google map . She found out the artist’s name, Julian Hoke Harris.

Personal ties to Cholera, 1833

Tanner-Cholera1832
Map created by Henry S Tanner of the 1832 Cholera pandemic

What a strange feeling looking at this map of the 1832 cholera pandemic.  It looks like a blotchy bruise on the country. A little surprise at how restricted the pandemic was in America. As it turns out this map is incomplete, ending in October 1832;  cholera eventually traveled down the Mississippi to reach New Orleans and stops along the way.  One of my first experiences with history of medicine discovered in my own research occurred while doing some family genealogy. Cholera is often depicted among the poor in crowded, old cities like London. For me though, cholera is a disease of the American frontier.

My ancestor John Biggs Moore died of cholera on July 4th, 1833. John Moore was the patriarch of a large family in frontier Illinois on the Mississippi River. He came to Kaskaskia Illinois with his parents in 1781 in the last years of the Revolutionary war. His father James Moore had first seen the Illinois country in the militia of George Rogers Clark when they took the area from English control during the Revolution. John Moore was teenager listed among the men on the first census of Americans in the Illinois country in 1787 used in part to prove that Americans were settled as far west as the Mississippi River to Congress. When American territorial boundaries were established, the Mississippi River was set as the western border, putting them on the furthest edge of the American frontier. (The Louisiana Purchase would extend the frontier in 1804.) The Moore family started the American settlement at Bellefontaine (present city of Waterloo), at the site of a big well-known spring,  on the trail between Kaskaskia and Cahokia in 1782.

John Moore’s death on July 4th tells us something about its circumstances. July 4th was the biggest community celebration held on the frontier. John Moore was the son, son-in-law, and nephew of Revolutionary war soldiers and a former War of 1812 soldier. There is little doubt that he would have been part of the independence day celebrations. Cholera came to Illinois the previous summer with Gen. Scott’s arrival with federal soldiers to take charge of the Black Hawk War.  They arrived at Fort Dearborn (modern Chicago) on the shore of Lake Michigan and the disease traveled with the troops down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers fading out in the fall. When cholera re-emerged the following summer it is recorded in Belleville in July of 1833 it claimed the life of former Governor Ninian Edwards on July 20, 1833. John Moore died of it over two weeks earlier 20 miles from Belleville. Most of the men in John Moore’s extended family where in the Illinois militia on campaign under his step-brother Gen. Samuel Whiteside during the Black Hawk War. So the community gathering for independence day celebrations the summer after the war, that could have went on for days, is the context of his death.

The arrival of the first steamship in Illinois brought with it the double-edged sword of connection with ‘civilization’. Most of the early Illinois pioneers did not come with grand visions of living in an isolated primitive wilderness.  They were very focused on land ‘improvements’ and recreating a Virginia-style plantation landscape. Steam ships would have been heralded as a sign of progress since river trade was vital to their economy until the railroad arrived. The cholera brought to the frontier by the federal troops killed more people than the Black Hawk War.

On Giant’s Shoulders #66: Contagious History!

Welcome to the 66th edition of On Giant’s Shoulders, the blog carnival for the history of science, medicine and technology! I wish I could pull a bunch of holiday posts out of Santa’s bag, but the blogosphere does not appear to be in the festive mood yet. An anniversary and commemoration mood seems to be prevailing as the end of the year approaches, so for historians this should be a gift!

One thing has become clear from looking at the sources of posts this month is that history of medicine and science has indeed become contagious, no longer limited to just typical blogs. We have traditional bloggers writing feature stories in newspapers and journals, large group blogs, the rise of library, archive and society ‘blogs’, and guest bloggers being invited to give context on blogs, some not normally about history. There are a growing number of options to blog outside of traditional one author blogs.

Marking history in our times 

Most of this issue is, of course, on medieval and early modern medicine, but I can’t let a couple of important modern history anniversaries pass unremarked. The H word celebrated 30th anniversary of PCR with two guest posts: the secret life of the laboratory by Charolette Sleigh and bringing meaning to technology by Jean-Baptiste Gouyon. This month one of the great genetics pioneers of the late 20th century, Frederick Sanger passed away. This two time Nobel prize winner made the sequencing of DNA and protein possible. Without Sanger sequencing there is no telling how long the genetic revolution would have been delayed. Originally done with radioactivity, here is a modern fluorescent Sanger for those of you unfamiliar with what sequencing looks like. Festive, isn’t it?

Modern Sanger Sequencing
Modern Sanger Sequencing

Rebecca Higgitt of The H Word writes about how legends of historic scientific heroes still shapes expectations of modern science and academia, for better or worse.

Part of all the remembrances of the JFK assassination , Circulating Now had a post on JFK’s career long support of the foundation and development of the National Library of Medicine. The New York Academy of Medicine featured a post on the WHO’s  AIDS posters  from the 1987-1995, soon after recognition of the pandemic.

Pathogens and Pandemics

fungal-christmas-tree-2-300x225Although not strictly a blog post, the Royal Society has posted podcasts of the November 2013 Ancient DNA conference, including the session by Johannes Kraus whose lab sequenced the East Smithfield plague isolates. While on the topic of plague podcasts, another series of four Ellen McArthur lectures by Bruce Campbell on “The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the 13th and 14th Centuries” came online earlier in the year but I don’t think has been part of his carnival yet. Listening to these lectures is vital for anyone interested in plague history, environmental or economic history.

Guy Halsall, The Historian on the Edge, writes about pestilence and politics in sixth century Gaul, according to Gregory of Tours. Helen King of Wonders & Marvels wrote about people dying like sheep in the Plague of Athens. A bigger writing project I’m working on motivated me to write, here on Contagions, a post suggesting renaming the third pandemic and a couple of posts (here and here) on plague historiography. Medievalist.net posted a  fighting the plague in medieval towns.

Circulating Now‘s guest blogger E. Thomas Ewing writes about the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Chicago. Earlier this year, Michael Bresalier wrote a guest post on The H Word on the 80th anniversary of the discovery of the influenza virus. While on discoveries, Yovisto featured a post on bacteriologist Robert Koch and his work on tuberculosis.

The Digitized Disease Project went online this month with a beta version of its database of digitized osteological remains open to the public for study.

Recipes, Food and Medicine

Jim Chevallier’s food history blog Les Leftovers, had several medicine related posts this month starting with the great medieval water myth , a post on a narrative of soup served to Bishop Gregory of Tours that touches on medieval taxonomy and attitudes toward getting drunk in Greogry of Tours works, and another on the plum of your eye.

The Recipe Project has been productive as ever with posts by Katherine Allen on cures for the common cold and remedies for rabies by Marieke Hendriksen.

Winston Black has a trilogy of posts on Points: the Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society on the medieval pharmacy: Turning herbs into drugs in the middle ages,  The drug store in paradise and How do I drug thee? Let me count the ways. The most active medieval bloggers and reporters of Medievalists.net covered a recent lecture by Nick Everett on the modern science of medieval drugs.

Paul Middleton of Early Modern Medicine wrote about poisons, potions and the use of unicorn horns.

Caroline Petit posted at Knowledge Centre on Nigella Seeds: The Vicks Inhaler of Ancient Greece and Modern Day Marrakech

Dr Alun Withey posted on 17th century remedies and the body as an experiment.

Unusual Medical Maladies and Treatments

 Felicity Roberts of the Sloan Letters blog, writes about Mary Davis, the horned woman. Yep, real ‘horns’ growing out of her head with a portrait to prove it.

Circulating Now had a post on the use of projected snowflakes on magic lantern slides to mental patients. Some of these slides still exist in the National Library of Medicine.

Caroline Rance of The Quack Doctor has been featuring a post a day for ADvent on historic ads for medical devices and quack medications. The first ad is for a health jolting chair, you can follow the posts daily from there.

Jennifer Evans of Early Modern Medicine writes about medical opinions on ambidexterity and on early modern trepanning.

Public Health

Joseph Curran of the History of Medicine in Ireland blog wrote about the funding of hospitals in Dublin from c. 1847-1880.

Sue Davies of the Wellcome Library blog wrote about early 20th century efforts to reduce the contamination of ice cream in London.

Explore Your Archive featured the strange case of Dr James Barry, a 19th century Inspector General of military hospitals, and the secret revealed at his death.

Book Reviews

Jacob Darwin Hamblin hosted the E-Environment roundtable to review  two books, Sam White’s  The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire  (effects of the ‘little ice age’ on the Ottomans) and Alan Mikhail’s Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt. E-Environment roundtable issues are open access.

Here on Contagions, I reviewed Keith Wrightson’s Ralph Tailor’s Summer: a Scrivener, his City and the Plague.

Andreas Sommer of Forbidden Histories has an interview with Gabriel Finkelstein on his biography of Emil du Bois-Reymond: Science, Progress and Superstition.

Michael Barton’s The Dispersal of Darwin has posted several book reviews in the last month including this one on  Darwin and His Children and for children The Great Human Story

Michael Barton’s other blog Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas also has a book review of Teaching Children Science: Hands-On Nature Study in North America, 1890-1930.

From Michael Barton's The Dispersal of Darwin blog.
From Michael Barton’s The Dispersal of Darwin blog.

Childbirth and Women’s Medicine

Colleen Kennedy of the Recipe Project writes about that special feminine (almond?) touch given to hand kneaded dough that Robert Herrick loved so.

Helen King of Wonders & Marvels writes about pregnancy between East and West.

Earlier this summer Theresa Earenfight and Monica Green published a series of four posts on teaching  medieval royal mothering and women’s medicine, the first of four post is linked here.

Laurence Totelin of the Recipes Blog wrote about the ancient Greek use of garlic in fertility testing.

Medieval Medical Manuscripts

Another guest blog post by Monica Green on rediscovering medieval medical texts in a digital age.

Catherine Petit of Medicine, Ancient and Modern has a post on neglected Byzantine medical manuscripts.

Lindsey Fitzharris, the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, writes about one of my favorite medieval diagnostic devices in piss prophets and the wheel of urine.

Anke Timmermann of The Recipe Project writes about the medieval (and later) method of cleaning manuscripts with bread. Laura Mitchell of the Recipe Project writes about the erasure of charms from a 15th century household notebook.

Biological Science

Adrienne Mayor of Wonders & Marvels wrote about scorpions in Antiquity.

Caitlin Wylie of Dissertation Reviews reviews Dinosaurs: Assembling an Icon of Science, by Lukas Benjamin Rieppel. Robertson Meyer of the Atlantic writes about dragons and beasts in the margins of maps and globes. 

Christian Jarrett of Brain Watch wrote about the first brain collectors.

John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts wrote about the theological and philosophical origins of the species concept and the 18th and 19th century origins of ‘intelligent design’ theories.

Blogger Razib Khan wrote a feature in the Telegraph on how genetics of the Caribbean peoples is rewriting their histories.

Lisa Smith of the Sloane Letters blog wrote about Sir Hans Sloan, Abbe Bignon and Mrs. Hickie’s pigeons.

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings wrote on how Maria Sibylla Merian’s (1647–1717) illustrations laid the foundations of modern entomology. On this note, we should mark the passing of a modern pioneering female entomologist, Marjorie Guthrie within the last month.

In other science blogging: 

Seb Falk of Astrolabs and Stuff wrote up a seminar summary by Hascok Chan’s on his controversial keynote address from this summer’s International Congress of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine on “Putting Science back into History of Science”.

Melinda Baldwin of American Science wrote about the current backlash against prestigious scientific journals and how submissions by scientists has shaped scientific publishing in the past.

Jenny Bulstrode guest posted on Astrolabs and Stuff on the personal touch in making scientific instruments.

Dean Zollman wrote a guest post on Kim Rendfeld’s blog on how Isaac Newton was 300 years ahead of his time. The Newton Project Canada also have posted podcasts of its recent General Scholium Symposium.

Thony C of Renaissance Mathmaticus wrote about Lord Cromwell’s code breaker and on when and how geology became a science.

Robert Hooke’s London gave us some sound advice from the 17th century.  The Origins of Science as a Visual Art has an post on progress being made on finding Richard Waller’s library; Waller was a collaborator of Robert Hooke.

Jaun Gomez of Early Modern Experimental Philosophy on Dr. Arbuthnot’s use of gender balance birth stats to prove divine providence.

Romeo Vitelli of Providentia‘s  post on the physics of four-dimensional spiritualism and a two part post on Isaac Newton’s successor mathematician William Whiston’s predictions on the Second Coming: Part 1 and Part 2.

John Liffen of Stories from the Stores wrote about the sparky beginnings of wireless telegraphy. The yovisto blog featured a post on John Boyd Dunlap’s invention of inflatable tires.

Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles writes about the extensive banality of Nazi evil on the careers of scientists few remember.

Matt Novak of Paleofuture wrote about the unfortunate internet canonization of Nicholas Tesla.

The January edition of On Giant’s Shoulders will be hosted by Jennifer Evans (@HistorianJen) of Early Modern Medicine on January 16, 2014. Submissions are due to Jennifer directly or to The Renaissance Mathematicus (@rmathematicus) no later than Jan. 15.

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