Category Archives: blog carnivals

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. 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 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.



On Giants Shoulders #54: A Sleigh Load of History

Welcome to On Giant’s Shoulders #54, the history of science blog carnival! Here, we celebrate the history of science with all its oddities, and modern science delves into the past. I can’t think of a better way to spend my third blogoversary (of regular blogging) here at Contagions. Just a few days away from the winter solstice, I managed to fill my sleigh with a load of science history links. Cuddle up with a warm mug of hot chocolate (or whatever warms you) and settle in for some good reading.

Festive Science and the Holiday Season

Since the culture war between science and religion heated up, there has been friction between science and religious holidays like Christmas. Rupert Cole of Notes & Theories reminds us that this was not always so. In Victorian England, the popularity of science and Christmas festivities peaked with the public at the same time and reveled in each other. Victorian Christmas plays and pageants were followed by science lectures to explain the featured science and technology! Public Christmas trees were decorated with scientific instruments that were given to children. Those were the days. Though some science folks still know how to mix up the traditions. In a throw back to at least the sixteenth century, Diane Mcllmoyle of Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about the holiday tradition of mummer’s plays with its requisite quack doctor.

History of Pseudoscience

Let’s kick this carnival off with a stimulating discussion on, of all things, the omnipresence and worth of (what we call today) pseudoscience. Rebekah Higgitt of The H Word addresses claims that pseudoscience is on the rise with a history lesson, and ThonyC of Renaissance Mathematicus goes one step further asserting that pseudoscience has sometimes been helpful to the development of science. Faye Flam of Lightning Rod writes on Michael Gordin’s recent research on pseudoscience. Continuing with the supernatural, Lindsey Fitzharris of The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice discusses Abraham Lincoln’s conversations with the dead.

Darwin and Evolution

As always posts on Charles Darwin must be featured in On Giant’s Shoulders. Suvrat Kher of Rapid Uplift writes about Darwin’s slow, deep-thinking methods. Michael Barton of The Dispersal of Darwin calls out more quote mining of Darwin by anti-Darwinists. James Randerson writes of the private life of Charles Darwin. The Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project also launched this month to coincide with the centenary anniversary of his death in 2013. Tim Jones of Zoonomian celebrated the birthday of the other famous Darwin, the polymath Erasmus Darwin (d. 12.12.1731). He also visits Annie Darwin’s grave and reviews Dr Gully’s water cures.

Joachim D of Mousetrap posted on Herbert Spencer’s synthetic philosophy and the centrality of evolution in his thinking.


Kristina Killgrove of Powered by Osteons summarized Nutrition and Well-Being in the Roman World: The Evidence of Human Bones, a conference this fall in Rome. Katy Myers of Bones Don’t Lie discusses how isotope data from bones informs on the social structure of an Anglo-Saxon settlement. In another post she discusses skeletal weapon trauma in medieval Ireland confirming the violence in Irish medieval records. In her most recent post she discusses the discovery and analysis of the graves of victims of the attempted mutiny of The Batavia off the coast of Australia in 1628.


Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie discusses a new study examining osteological and molecular evidence of TB at three neolithic sites in Germany at the transition to farming. I have a post on the Black Death Network reviewing the molecular evidence of the Black Death. If you have any interest in the 14th century crises — plague, famine, cattle murrain etc. — check out the Black Death Network. Spirochetes Unwound discusses the latest theory on the mysterious epidemic of 1616-1619 that decimated native Americans along the New England coast. Here on Contagions, I posted on the isolation of smallpox DNA from 17th century Siberia. The History of Vaccines blog posted a sketch of smallpox vaccine production in a cow, along with a discussion of vaccine production in 1872. Bringing us up to the 20th century, Rebecca Kreston of Body Horrors brings us the story of the first case of HIV in a 1961 Norwegian teenager who brought an unusual strain of HIV (group O) to his family and seeded it across in Europe.


Genomics can help unravel the history of peoples who have left little documentary record. History of the Ancient World Blog has a post on a new study examining Scythian genetic admixture. Katherine Harmon of Observations covers a new study showing Gypsy or Roma origins in India about 500 CE/AD. This places the movement of the Roma out of India into Central Asia during the Great Migrations period that occurred when the Western Roman Empire fell in the fifth century. Interesting to think of the Roma as the last of the 1500 year old Great Migration peoples. Also covered on Past Horizons.

Mike Drout and his team at Wheaton have been applying DNA analysis and statistics software to Old English texts to determine authorship. They call it Lexomics — check them out.

Medical Practice and Public Health

Early modern medical practice was in the spotlight this month. Mike Rendell, The Georgian Gentleman puts a spotlight on contemporary views of 18th century medical practice. Home remedies were not any more successful, as ThonyC of Renaissance Mathematicus writes about in George Boole’s death from his wife’s homeopathy. Jai Virdi of From the Hands of Quacks explores the motivations of Dr Curtis‘ founding of the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear. The Secret Histories Project brings us a biography of the unconventional Dr. James Barry, child genius, military surgeon, and annoyance of Florence Nightingale. Venessa Heggie of The H Word, writes on the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge Report, that founds the modern British welfare state, about earlier attempts to build a social safety net in Britain with Elizabethan Poor Laws and the infamous Victorian workhouses. New blogger Jennifer Evans of Early Modern Medicine writes about the rhetoric of men pushing through the pain. Lisa Smith’s of the Sloane Letter project, she looks at the problem of bed wetting in the 18th century. Lindsey Fitzharris of The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice got ready for the holiday season by picking 12 (medical) instruments of Deathmas; most are sure to make you squirm. Caro of The Quack Doctor writes about the fun and games at Illinois Pharmacological Association meetings for traveling salesmen near the turn of the 20th century. Lynsey Shaw of the History of Military Aviation Hospitals writes on The Oxford Military Hospital, 1939-45.

Efforts to figure out the brain were popular this month. Michael Finn of Asylum Science wrote about the use of ophthalmoscope to view the living brain in asylums. The Public Domain Review reprinted “The Brain of Charles Babbage” (1909), the ‘father of the computer’. Darin Hayden wrote about a phrenological examination of Andrew White (who played a role in igniting the friction between science and religion).

On chemicals we are better off without, Marieke Hendriksen of the Medicine Chest writes about how mercury was viewed by early medical practitioners. Deborah Blum of Elemental writes about how early the US FDA knew about radiation dangers in cigarette smoke.

Pharmacy and Diagnostic Texts

Christina Agapakis of the Oscillator writes about the medieval Urine Wheel to diagnose metabolic diseases.

Michelle DiMeo of the Recipe Project writes about Dr Crawford Long’s exploration of the uses of ether for insect bites. Lisa Smith at the Recipe Project writes about a treatise claiming coffee cures the plague. In the area of hard to find reagents, Chelsea Clark of The Recipe Project shines light on the wonders of unicorn horns, bezoars and bones of a stag’s heart for poisoning. Alas, black markets for animal products like Rhino’s horn (a unicorn substitute) and bear gal bladder is still very active and taking its toll on increasingly rare animals. A little easier to resource, Jonathan Cey of the Recipe Project, shows us that feces-containing remedies were common in the early modern pharmacopoeia. So patients were more right than they knew when they said their medicine tasted like crap! Pamela Dangle also of The Recipe Project writes about some really “fishy” remedies for Melancholy (that seem rather unlikely to help, to me). Thinking of odd remedy names, Tim Jones of Zoonomian writes about medical misnomers of the past.

Physics, Astronomy, and Earth Sciences

ThonyC of Renaissance Mathematicus writes about the astronomical and medical roots of the first pocket diary (calendars). I’ll never look at those moon symbols on my calendar the same way again. Sorry Dad, the phases of the moon are not on the calendar to tell you when the fish are biting. Along similar lines of finding practical solutions to scientific dilemmas, Rebekah Higgit of The H Word writes about the catching and keeping of spiders to spin eyepiece filaments for astronomical observations. On the Royal Society blog, Rupert Baker writes about Thomas Hardy’s historical fiction on early astronomers and the royal society.

Let’s get a little textual with our astronomy, starting with Jenny Weston of Medieval Fragments who writes about medieval star-gazing. Astrolabes and Stuff discusses how to construct a medieval equitorium of Mercury and also for the Moon. Katy Barret of the Longitude blog writes about use of Cook’s journals and her longitude book collection. Sarah Werner of The Collation writes about volvelles (movable wheels) on folios of science and pseudoscience books.

Harald Sack at Yovisto writes about the golden-nosed astronomer Tycho Bahre and on Werner Heisenberg and the uncertainty principle. Alberto Vanzo of Early Modern Experimental Philosophy writes about the contributions Geminiano Montanari and the Italian academy. Matt Wisnioski guest posted on American Science about the motto “Change or Die!”

David Bressan of History of Geology writes about how philosophies of the nature of the world effected the study of the history of the Earth, and early efforts to measure its age. BibliOdyssey posts some of the original sketches and paintings of the discovery of Australia and its wildlife and then on Plant atlas from 1878-1783.

Dr SkySkull of Skulls in the Stars sets the record straight on Benjamin Franklin’s kite electricity experiments, outlines Priestly’s 1767 account of Franklin’s experiments and writes of the dangers of experimental ballooning in 19th century. Moving on from riding aloft to the winds on the plains, Carol Clark of Wonders & Marvels writes about the role of wind power in settling the arid American west.

Christian Hansen of Hummus and Magnets writes about the analytical programming of Babbage’s early calculating machines.

Lisa Smith will be hosting the next On Giant’s Shoulders carnival on the Sloane Letter Project in January. So watch for Lisa’s posts on twitter (@historybeagle) for more information.

I hope you found something enlightening and entertaining for a long winter’s night. Watch out for sleighs this holiday season, reindeer get spooked with all the holiday traffic!