#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]