Health, History, and the Holidays at the Center for the History of Medicine & Public Health


A call to the open sleep under the stars. Syracuse, NY : The Starnook Company, [1910?] .

Happy Holidays from the Center for the History of Medicine & Public Health!

Our reading rooms will be closed over the holiday season.  Friday, December 21, 2012 will be the last day before closing and we will reopen on Wednesday, January 2, 2013.

We look forward to seeing you in the new year.

Putting Asthma on the Map

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Southwest Map

Map from The South-west and New Mexico for phthisis, weak lungs, asthma, bronchitis, etc. Chicago: American Health Resort Association, 1891.

On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Carla Keirns, MD, PhD, from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine will present this year’s John K. Lattimer Lecture, “Putting Asthma on the Map: Weather, Pollen, Pollution and the Geography of Risk.”

Dr Keirns will discuss how the patient’s environment has been central to the prevention and treatment of asthma since antiquity, and how, beginning in the 19th century, physicians learned to use measurements of humidity, sunlight and rainfall to predict places and seasons that would be safe for asthmatics. During the same period, indoor and outdoor risks such as pollen and dust began to mark regions and spaces as risky or dangerous, and led to efforts to escape attacks through travel or fortifying the home environment against triggers. Recent efforts to predict or create safe places have turned again to the outdoors, both through national regulation of air pollution and the efforts of minority communities and their academic and activist partners to document the disproportionate environmental risks faced by their members.

Register for the event here.

“Die Free”: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

Surgeon's Certificate for  Dick Parker Wills 1903

Surgeon’s Certificate for Dick Parker Wills 1903

More than 200,000 African men served in the Union Army’s United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. Among them were James Wills, Mack Wills, Dick (Wills) Parker, Andy Wills and Richard Wills, who fled the Tennessee plantation of Edmund Wills to join the 4th Heavy Field Artillery of Columbus, Kentucky.

In Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale acclaimed journalist Cheryl Wills explores the story of her great-great-great grandfather, Sandy Wills, and his companions. In unearthing her family history, she uncovers the discrepancies, disparities, and decisions “great and small, careless and deliberate” that impacted the treatment and care of black soldiers.

Black soldiers died from disease at a disproportionate rate to their white compatriots, and, as documented in Die Free, their higher burden of mortality continued after the end of the war. Evidence from medical records and surgeon’s certificates indicates that many black soldiers also struggled to have their conditions taken seriously and to be granted pensions.

We are delighted to be welcoming Cheryl Wills to the New York Academy of Medicine on December 10. She will appear in discussion with the renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, to explore the experiences of her family, and reflect on the ongoing legacy of the discrimination they suffered.

Discover more about Die Free here. In addition to their service as soldiers, African Americans also acted as nurses, surgeons and hospital workers during the Civil War. Some of these contributions are explored in Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries, an exhibition at the National Library of Medicine.