Cataloging Roundup: New Library Acquisitions in the History of Medicine

by Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

Founded in 1847 and fast approaching its 175th anniversary in 2022, the Academy Library is a vital part of NYAM. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic we are actively building our collection. As a historical library, we acquire books on a variety of topics in the history of medicine. I wanted to share a few of the titles we added in 2020, so that readers could see the breadth and depth of subjects in our collection. Cataloging these books let me see the fascinating connections among them and the insightful, probing work that is being done today in the history of medicine.

In an occurrence of timely scholarship, a few of our newly acquired titles relate to pandemics:

Epidemics and the Modern World by Mitchell L. Hammond (University of Toronto Press, 2020): This textbook uses primary sources, illustrations, and chapters on key epidemics (bubonic plague, yellow fever, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, etc.) to show how diseases have shaped the modern world.

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City by John Henderson (Yale University Press, 2019): Henderson’s treatment of the plague in Florence in 1630-31 provides a nuanced, detailed look at this year in the city’s history, with emphasis on the strategies that the government used to manage the crisis.

The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum (W. W. Norton, 2019): Honigsbaum looks at the 1918 influenza epidemic, AIDS, SARS, Legionnaires’ disease, Ebola, and Zika. About the spread of infectious diseases, he presciently observes that “Greater global interconnectivity driven by international travel and commerce is undoubtedly a key factor.” 

Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank M. Snowden (Yale University Press, 2019): Snowden discusses AIDS and influenza, as well as malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and yellow fever. Of particular interest now is his final chapter, titled “Dress Rehearsals for the Twenty-First Century: SARS and Ebola.”

The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England by Jacob Steere-Williams (University of Rochester Press, 2020): Steere-Williams situates typhoid fever in English cultural context and theorizes that this disease and its treatment gave epidemiologists “a new kind of professional identity.”

Our material on the intersection of race, health, and medicine grew with the addition of these titles:

Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840 by Rana A. Hogarth (University of North Carolina Press, 2017): Hogarth explores “physicians’ objectification of black people’s bodies in slave societies” in this work that covers 18th– and 19th-century Atlantic history.

Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation by Gretchen Long (University of North Carolina Press, 2012): An exploration of African American medical culture in the years preceding and following the Civil War. Long asserts that “African American patients and practitioners found themselves in a new medical landscape—one newly shaped both by scientific discovery and by a government that was in the process of recognizing and defining their citizenship.”

Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy by Susan M. Reverby (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): In this notable, meticulously researched book, Reverby analyzes the notorious 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study and its legacy of mistrust. She also examines the place “Tuskegee” has in our culture as “the word for racism, experimentation, and government deceit.”

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation, Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr. (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): Roberts looks at how the “demands and politics of tuberculosis” were managed in the early to mid-20th century, using Baltimore as a case study, while also addressing the issue of racialized medicine in a larger context of race and public health.

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve by Michael E. Staub (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Staub reexamines well-known psychological studies of race, IQ, and intelligence conducted between 1954 and 1994 with an eye to making clear the persistence of “the racialization of mental testing.”

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington. (Little, Brown Spark, 2019): NYAM Fellow Harriet Washington looks at lead, chemical pollution, and microbes in her probing of the Black-white IQ gap. She forcefully disputes the idea that this gap is hereditary, pointing instead to the connection between harmful environmental factors and the disproportionate exposure of minority communities to toxic living and working environments.

Another related cluster of books focuses on fertility, pregnancy, motherhood, and maternity:

Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America by Nora Doyle (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Doyle’s “redefining” involves centering women’s bodies and experiences in this focused look at women, maternity, childbirth, and motherhood in the United States between 1750 and 1850.

The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America by Lara Freidenfelds (Oxford University Press, 2020): Miscarriages are common during pregnancy but attitudes and expectations around pregnancy and miscarriage have changed from 18th-century America to today, with changing emotional repercussions for women experiencing an early pregnancy loss.

Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility & Family Limitations in America, 1760-1820 by Susan E. Klepp (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): A scholarly look at fertility and family planning in early America.

Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth by Wendy Kline (Oxford University Press, 2019): Kline tracks changes in birth practices in mid-20th-century America, noting a growing trend toward midwife-assisted home births and away from hospital births attended by an obstetrician. She places this movement in a historical context by using the history of the Chicago Maternity Center and the midwives of The Farm in Tennessee.

I hope this roundup has inspired your interest in our ever-growing collections. For more titles, the Library’s catalog can be explored here. Though we are not able to accept readers because of the pandemic, we look forward to resuming our public hours and, perhaps, seeing you back in the Library in person when it is safe.

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About nyamhistory

The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health, part of the Academy Library, promotes the scholarly and public understanding of the history of medicine and public health. Established in 2012, the Center aims to build bridges among an interdisciplinary community of scholars, educators, clinicians, curators, and the general public. The Center bases its work on the Library's historical collections, among the largest in this field in the United States and open to the public since 1878.

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