#ColorOurCollections This Week!

Whether or not you have snow on the ground, the month of February is often one for hunkering down and preparing the emotional, intellectual, and creative ground for future generative activities. Need something to keep your hands occupied while you let your mind wander? You are in luck! This is #ColorOurCollections week, a “special collections coloring fest” across social media platforms, organized by the New York Academy of Medicine’s Center for History.

– Dittrick Museum’s Coloring Book

History of medicine, science, and technology collections are particularly rich in images that lend themselves to coloring, and a number of medical history collections are participating, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Dittrick Museum, Medical Heritage Library, New York Academy of Medicine, Norris Medical Library, the Old Operating Theatre Museum, and the Wellcome Library. You can find a growing list of participating institutions here.

Download the Dittrick Museum’s Coloring Book here, and follow the hashtag throughout the week, February 1-5, to see what other institutions are doing!

MedHum Monday Book Review: Sexology in Translation

24886078In English-language humanities research, the study of human sexuality is often understood implicitly or explicitly as a Western invention, emerging in the late 19th century and spreading outward from Europe and North America. The new anthology Sexology in Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World (Temple University Press, 2015), edited by Heike Bauer, aims to be a “corrective to the pervasive idea that sexuality is a ‘Western’ construct that was transmitted around the world” (2). Toward this goal, Bauer has collected an impressive range of essays on sexual science and sexual cultures across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as they developed between the closing decades of the nineteenth century and World War II.

While the collection is still weighted toward the Anglo-European, and in no way globally comprehensive, the essays are nonetheless a rich contribution to our understanding of the global history of sexuality, both in terms of their individual topics and through demonstrating theoretical models for utilizing the tools of translation and sites of cultural exchange to better understand our modern preoccupation with human sexuality. As Bauer writes in the introduction,

This research addresses one of the fundamental questions in the modern history of sexuality: why sexuality? Or, to phrase this differently, they consider afresh why erotic desires and sexual acts have gained such a prominent role in modern debates about politics, science, and individual and collective subject formations. (8)

The anthology is organized in three sections, focusing in turn on the interplay between translation and key concepts in modern sexological discourse such as frigidity, love, the third sex, and homosexuality.  The second section turns to examine the way in which understandings of human sexuality were translated from one language or culture into another, for example the translation of European sexologists’ writings into Russian and their reception by Russian scholars. The final section focuses on individual responses to sexological ideas, the translation of scientific ideas into personal identity formation.

It is perhaps a mark of how Eurocentric English-language histories of sexuality have been that even in an anthology with a preponderance of essays focused on Anglo-European literature or contexts the overall work feels refreshingly global in its reach. There are essays that examine the sexual sciences and cultures of China, England, Japan, Germany, Peru, Russia, and among Hebrew and Arabic speaking peoples of Egypt and Palestine. The material and metaphorical meanings of “translation,” too, are wide-ranging, with contributors looking not only to linguistic translations but also translations of medium (scientific text to popular magazine, literary depiction to sexological concept), and cultural shifts from one era to the next.

Not written for the generalist reader, this anthology will be most useful to scholars with an interest either in one or more of the specific subjects under consideration or in expanding their toolkit for historical analysis to include notions of translation and cultural exchange. Familiarity with this anthology and the scholarly gaps it seeks to address should be required of students of the history of sexuality.  As we strive to ensure a global perspective on the historical development human sexuality in the modern era.

The Stars Look Very Different Today: David Bowie, Loss of an Icon

c40a908fed891786e4d644bfdce93a56Yesterday, January 10th, David Bowie (nee. David Robert Jones) died in Manhattan after an 18 month battle with cancer.

Yesterday, one of the greatest outpourings of grief I have witnessed in my lifetime flooded social network feeds, news stations, radio waves, and the whispered disbelief of my friends and associates.

And I wept.qiBXMG45TWhat does it mean, to share in public grief? A recurring expression in yesterday’s posts: “I know I should not feel this way, but…” I saw it over and again; sheepishness, if not embarrassment, for mourning the loss of someone you have never met. I heard people call themselves foolish, silly; I heard them chastise their own tears (and on a few occasions, the tears of others). But to grieve is our greatest responsibility to those who have touched us nearly, and it does not matter the means of that connection. I have no words I can add to Bowie’s homage that have not already been said (and better) by others, but in the hopes that I can, by these means, bestow a sense of permission for grief–I will share two stories.

#1 Dora-Gray was a remarkable woman, born to a remarkable woman. Her own mother served as the only doctor, surgeon, and midwife to a wide swath of wild West Virginia (without a license, impossible to procure for a woman, and a poor one). Dora-Gray never had the opportunity to be a doctor, herself, though she aspired to it. Instead, she spent her life in lifting others by whatever means available to her. When she died, perfect strangers came from all around to mourn her passing. People she’d never mentioned–most of them, she probably scarcely knew. But they grieved a force in the community, someone who left them with deep impressions that far outweighed their personal connection to her. No one ordered them out of the funeral home. No one shamed them for their tears.

#2 A gawky, hawkish child with no friends and few outlets  found herself possessed of an intelligence she’d been shamed for owning. Described as a witch-kid well before Harry Potter made that “cool” and harassed and bullied for reading books in the playground, she retreated inside her own head. She chose an interlocutor who made sense to her–someone weird, and smart, and creative. And weird. That was important. David Bowie. She spoke to him often. It promised her that growing up and getting out was possible, and that she needn’t shed her uniqueness or her brains in the process. He was, by many measures, her only friend. Also, he sang. And sometimes wore tights.

Dora-Gray was my grandmother. The gawky child is me–but I suspect it’s also many others, who took strength from Bowie’s unapologetic way of living, and living large. Most of us never met David Bowie. But we met his art, his music, his persona (re-made continually). Perhaps we constructed a version of him in our heads that would not have matched reality, but it’s nonetheless a part of that reality, a legacy, the best legacy of an icon unmatched in this, the previous, and possibly the next generation. If a spare word from a kind woman was enough to shift worlds for others, then the five-decade career of a man who spoke through multiple mediums and media, who stood for something greater than self, should not surprise us. If strangers could grieve openly at the casket of my grandmother, then we can–should–feel the sudden void of Bowie’s passing. If he influenced you, you are right to grieve and human to do so. If he did not, you should not feel pressured to take part, but be careful of those who mourn. It’s advice for all griefs observed.

Some people become more than people to us; they are symbols and immovable, immortal in their way. You are not foolish for mourning the loss, when that loss is a part of you. You should not feel compelled to compare this grief to others, or to chastise yourself if you find it as great a pain as losing someone whose life touched you most nearly. [Caitlin Doughty (Order of the Good Death) wrote yesterday about that very thing.] I will always have the part of David that lived in my own head. I can still, though, feel shock at his passing as I might the loss of a distant friend. Grief is privately processed as well as publicly practiced. It is healthier to share in it, in whatever way supports you best. For me, the stars look very different today. [Space Oddity]


MedHum Monday Book Review: Boston Floating Hospital

bostonfloating_coverThe Boston Floating Hospital no longer floats. Now part of the Tufts Medical Center, the Floating Hospital for Children is solidly rooted on Washington Street in downtown Boston. Founded in the late nineteenth century, it started life as a boat. In The Boston Floating Hospital: How a Boston Harbor Barge Changed the Course of Pediatric Medicine (2014), Lucy Prinz and Jacoba van Schaik tell its story with extensive references and illustrations with chapters on its contributions to pediatrics including its development of infant formula and early emphasis on family-centered care.

Departing on fair summer days from its mooring in East Boston to pick up patients at Commercial Wharf and cruise the Boston Harbor, the Floating Hospital served poor Bostonians with free medical care from 1894 until 1927. Its founder, the Reverend Rufus Tobey, had often observed parents taking their children out onto the Dover Street (or South) Bridge in an effort to get them some fresh air during the heat of the summer. As infant mortality regularly peaked in Boston during the summer, Tobey sought a way to help his parishoners’ children improve their health and survive in the face of widespread, life-threatening communicable diseases. Although the Floating began as a charitable foundation, it quickly became a vital part of Boston’s healthcare landscape.

The Boston Floating Hospital is the first full-length history of the Floating up to the present day. Along with Children’s Hospital, located across town in the Harvard Medical Area, it plays a key part in the city’s children’s healthcare network. Over a decade in its writing, The Boston Floating Hospital draws on archival sources, photographs, and oral histories to tell the story of the Hospital and the people who worked in it. The history of the Hospital sits at the intersection of a number of topics in American medical history, including the fresh-air movement popular at the end of the nineteenth century, the development of pediatrics and neonatal medicine as specialties, poverty’s effect on health, and immigrant politics. This book serves as a jumping-off point for research that would deepen and broaden the history and historical context of the Hospital laid out in this volume.

Tobey, a prominent Congregational minister in Boston, was inspired to consider using a boat as a hospital by the success of the Emma Abbott hospital ship in New York City. Operating since 1875, the Abbott provided day trips and medical care for children and mothers. Doctors stationed on the vessel could opt to send children into the hospital if they felt their outpatient services were insufficient. Tobey and his fellow founders followed this example when they purchased the barge Clifford and began their trips in Boston Harbor in July, 1894.

At that time, the ‘fresh air movement’ was enjoying growing popularity at the intersection of Americanization and public health. Started in New York City in 1877 by the Reverend Willard Parsons, the movement was originally a fairly small-scale attempt to get children away from the city’s slums and out into the countryside for up to two weeks at a time. Placed with host families, the children were supposed to soak in the ambience of rural America. According to medical historian Julia Guarneri, the theory was that the children would enjoy the healthful benefits of the time away from their cramped, city homes and at the same time reap the benefits of cultural exposure to “real” America. Since the majority of the children were either immigrants or first-generation Americans, much like the children served by the Floating, Parsons’ idea included a not-very subtle agenda of de-ethnicization for the children who took part.

Although never part of Parsons’ project or the larger organization that was founded as its country trips became more popular and successful, the Floating Hospital benefited from widespread public support for giving children access to an unpolluted (read: non-urban) environment. Given that its patients were mostly immigrants, many of the same anxieties that applied to New York City children were being felt in Boston. Were first-generation children really Americans? Could immigrant children become Americans? What undesirable traits — physical or mental — might they have brought with them or inherited? Medicalizing the problem of immigration and immigrant differences was one approach: medical science could ‘cure’ the children of their ethnic differences while at the same time reinforcing or improving their physical health. Parents could be taught the value of medical science and proper “American-ness” could be, almost literally, given in a pill.

While undoubted concern for the ailing children was evident in many of these projects including Parsons’ fresh-air trips and Tobey’s hospital boat, contemporary worry about the threat to the larger community should not be overlooked. These ill or potentially ill newcomers were a threat to the larger population in more ways than one. Cases such as Mary Mallon’s (better known as Typhoid Mary) were part of the collective imagination surrounding immigrants. Offering low cost or free health care as an attempt to obviate this situation wasn’t always easy to offer, nor was it always easy to get accepted. For immigrants coming from the United Kingdom particularly, ‘free health care’ could be read as ‘workhouse infirmary,’ usually the last and humiliating stop on the way to a pauper’s grave. Making it clear that the Floating Hospital was not a ferry to the poorhouse and that the staff aboard expected to help parents rather than lecture or reform them was an important step in the success of the Hospital’s project.

The Clifford‘s early cruises took parents, mostly mothers, and children around Boston Harbor. Free tickets were issued at the gangplank on the basis case evaluations by volunteer nurses and physicians. A simple lunch was served on board, but sick children were fed more frequently. That the boat’s services were used by 1,100 children during the first year, gives an idea of the need for such care in the city. In 1906, a larger vessel built to accommodate better facilities, more children, and a larger staff, docked at the North End Pier. The cruises were meant to provide basic medical attention for the child and a restorative treat for mothers who had only one or two children. Mothers with more children entrusted their children to the staff onboard. In its second year of operation, the Floating acquired a small surgical ward and could do some minor operations directly on the boat.

Like the fresh-air children sent from New York City into the countryside and the passengers on the Abbott, the children served by the Floating mostly came from the poorer, immigrant-heavy areas of the city, particularly the South End and cheap waterfront housing, notorious for poor environmental conditions. The passengers suffered from a wide variety of conditions: tubercular infections, malnutrition, rickets, and especially diarrheal infections, which so inflated the infant mortality statistics during the Boston summer.

The Floating Hospital came into being at a pivotal time in the medical field when specialties were coming to the fore after a century spent working out the rough dimensions of professional boundaries. Forensics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics were all beginning to take their modern shapes as fields of study. In addition to providing patient care, he Floating became a site for teaching nurses and physicians. Partnering with Tufts Medical School, it was accredited as a teaching hospital in the late 1920s. Having established an on-shore hospital in 1916, the Floating was forced ashore when its vessel was consumed by fire in 1927. Its position within Boston’s land-based medical-school community only strengthened as it enlarged its footprint. It is now the principal pediatric teaching and research institution for the Tufts University School of Medicine.

This first published history of the Floating Hospital is, if anything, too brief. It is hoped that historians of medicine and hospitals take its publication as an opportunity to further explore the institution and its relationship to the medical histories within which it is inextricably bound.

New Year, New Mission: a fresh look at Medical Humanities

It’s snowing in Montreal. Heavy flakes, bigger than a half-dollar, paper the steps of a small boutique hotel on Rue Sherbrooke, and I take a moment to reflect on 2015. It’s been quite a year–for challenged, for research, for overcoming. My own work seems to circle much of the crisis points; research on vaccines and polio during an Ebola outbreak, increased attention to trauma at my anthropology journal during the refugee crisis, and talks and exhibits on the history of birth control in the midst of actions that de-fund and malign planned parenthood. For every point and counterpoint in the headlines, there are legions of examples and case histories from history–the history of medicine, but the history of human kind and human actions more generally. And at the intersections of these matters, we see a new dawning of fictional output that centers on the frustration, the fear, the could-bes and should-bes, making room for heroism along the way. I drove from my home in Cleveland to Quebec for New Years, for a break and a time of reflection. But the more I look at what last year brought us, the more convinced I am that intersections of health and humanities and social sciences provide a way forward, a way of seeing, and a way of thinking. This blog has been an attempt to illustrate the intersection since 2012. In 2016, it’s time to take new steps–not just to share information, but to join conversations. It’s time to evolve, as a platform and as a means of reaching out. And so, WELCOME! Because today is the first day of a new mission, and you are invited!

New Staff

First, I want to introduce (officially) the new staff: Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, MA, MLS joins us as the Book Review Editor (you may know her as theFeministLibrarian). She will now be the primary contact for authors and publishers, fiction and non-fiction, choosing titles to feature here. Anna will review, herself, but even more importantly she will be inviting new readers on our behalf. Want to be one of these intrepid reviewers? Please see Review page; it’s our great pleasure to host readers, scholars, and interested folks as guest reviewers.

In addition, we welcome Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, MA ,MLS as the Medhum Series Editor. You may know Hanna from the Medical Heritage Library where she serves as Project Coordinator. The Daily Dose and MedHum Monday features invite guest posts to share perspectives about medicine, medical history, and humanities across cultures and disciplines. We welcome anthropological and sociological accounts that speak to themes of access, social welfare, cultural and historical practice. Hanna and I will soon be collaborating on a CFP for these guest posts, but areas of special interest include: culture, health, and access (including issues of gender); use and management of digital collections; medical history (museums and libraries welcome); social science angles on health and humanities… And given the present climate, we are especially interested in discussions of the medical humanities as concerns the refugee crisis.

New Format

Finally, an introduction to the new format. Many thanks to Somatosphere and other important blogs as we refined the look and action of the site. It’s a far simpler design, offering only the drop down menu for searching, and a cleaner, more readable format (for view on computer, tablet, and phone). The Book Review information and the Submission and Style Sheet appears with our About section in the menu, followed by a useful list of categories and the search feature–and we may, in future, be including a links page to feature articles of interest in the medical humanities.

And, of course, you may notice an adjustment to the header name of the blog–as Medhum Fiction rather than the previous Fiction Reboot. Over the years, it has become apparent that nearly all the fiction presented here connects to the medical humanities in some fashion. It seemed only right to make this link more official (though the URL has remained the same).

Your Feedback

It’s our hope that you, reader, will become a writer. I know so many of you are brilliant writers and scholars in your own right; we hope to hear more from you. But in addition, I (as the editor in chief) would love to hear your suggestions about other things the blog might offer–things that will make it more useful to you, as a medical humanities resource. You are the strength of any endeavor. And the conversation really, truly matters.

SO–Onward to a new and brilliant 2016. May yours be filled with hope and light, with joy and peace, with the strength to make change and to know it when change arrives. Our very best to you, and we hope you will soon be part of the family featured here, on Medhum Fiction | Daily Dose!


Yours sincerely,

Brandy Schillace, EIC


Friday Fiction Feature: MedHum T.V. for the Holidays

On this Friday after the last night of Hanukkah, exactly a week before Christmas Eve, I hope many of you are enjoying or about to enjoy a few weeks of relative rest and relaxation as we close out the old year and look forward to the new. If your find yourself looking for some binge-watching fare to balance out — or perhaps become the featured entertainment of — holiday gatherings, here are a few television shows I’ve viewed in part or in whole over the past year with medical humanities themes. Here’s hoping you find something on this list to round out your year in viewing — or get you started on 2016!

ANZAC Girls (2014). From Australia comes a six part miniseries dramatizing the experience of women who served in Egypt and at the Dardanelles during World War One as part of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp. Trained as nurses, Alice, Hilda, Elsie, Olive, and Grace arrive in Cairo ready to do their part for the war effort. Starry-eyed patriotic idealism soon gives way to gritty, even horrific, realities of battlefield medicine on and near the front lines of the Gallipoli Campaign, April 1915-January 1916.

Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries (2008-). In 1890s Toronto, science geek detective William Murdoch and forensic pathologist Dr. Julia Ogden solve crimes using the latest scientific methods, adorably falling in love on the way by. Murdoch remains grounded in historical realism while playing with both paranormal and steampunk elements. Halfway into the second of nine seasons, I can say I’ve also been impressed by the way the show has handled race and gender as both particular plot elements and a consistant part of the background narrative.

Penny Dreadful (2014-). Headlined by the commanding Eva Green, Penny Dreadful offers us a thoroughly steampunked, paranormal Victorian world in which the likes of Dr. Frankenstein and Dorian Gray stalk the streets of London and demonic possession, vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings flicker at the edge of the everyday. Watch Penny Dreadful for the rich literary allusions and superb acting by Green and her talented supporting cast including Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, and Billie Piper.

Penny Dreadful

Outlander (2014-). Based on Diana Gabaldon’s series by the same name, Outlander is part costume drama, part romance, part science fiction as WWII battlefield nurse Claire Randall time-travels from late 1940s Scotland to 1740s Scotland on the eve of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Forced into a marriage of political necessity to a highland outlaw (it’s complicated), Claire struggles to decide whether to continue to search for a way back home, or whether to choose a life in the time and place she has found herself. In season one, Claire’s futuristic medical expertise both gives her value to the 18th century Scots and also puts her life in danger as her unconventional healing techniques cast suspicion on her intentions, at one point even leading to a trial for witchcraft.

Sense8 (2015-). Like its older sister Orphan Black (2013-), Sense8 explores the nature of humanity by positing the existence of human-like beings (clones or sensates) whose existence both fascinates and threatens powerful human political and scientific interests. In season one of Sense8 we meet a global cast of characters centered around eight individual sensates who discover they are able to tap into one anothers’ sensory experiences. In this show, the world of science both illuminates and threatens as the sensates struggle to learn more about themselves while hiding from those who seek to forcibly hospitalize them and destroy their psychic potential.

Strange Empire
Strange Empire

Strange Empire (2014-). Set on the isolated Canadian borderlands north of Montana, Strange Empire echoes Deadwood (2004-2006) in setting and plot — yet with a female-centric cast of characters that include gunslinger Kat Loving, brothel madame Isabelle Slotter, and surgeon Dr. Rebecca Blithely. Each of these three characters brings with her a complex history of interaction with a world that racializes and sexualizes her in specific ways. Of particular interest to the medical humanities crowd may be Dr. Blithely’s history being treated for neuro-atypical behavior (autism?), her medical training, and work as a surgeon in the remote Canadian frontier.

All of these shows, of course, have their strengths and weaknesses — yet I hope you find at least one on the list which piques your interest enough to try and episode or two. Have fun, and happy holidays!

Upcoming Event: Jan 20th Book Signing, Death’s Summer Coat

Death's Summer Coat_CVRBOOK SIGNING: JANUARY 20, 6PM, Dittrick Museum

Join us at the Dittrick Museum for a book signing and reading (by Brandy Schillace), on the US release of Death’s Summer Coat, what the history of death and dying can tell us about life and living. In the tradition of Being Mortal, DSC looks at what we can learn from the diverse ways in which people deal with mortality across time and place. Some of the stories are strikingly unfamiliar, whether it is “death cafes” in India or the mourning practices in Cambodia. Others, like Victoria “momento-mori” photography, are more familiar than you might suppose—but all reveal something about the present, and about ourselves. Books are available for sale, and light refreshments will be provided in the Powell and Lowman rooms, Allen Memorial Medical Library.

(Also, I get to read from it!) Hope to see you there–flyer in full.