Cataloging Roundup: New Library Acquisitions in the History of Medicine

By Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

2022 is the 175th anniversary of the New York Academy of Medicine and its Library. We have an exciting slate of events planned for this year, including a special evening celebrating the library in the fall, so please keep an eye out in our blog and on our website for further news.

As I did in a May 2021 blog post, I’m sharing some of the newer titles we’ve acquired in the history of medicine.   

Scholarship in American medical history covers the colonial era up until the early 21st century, with a range of topics: illness, activism, epidemics, and cesarean sections.

Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2015): Drawing from a plethora of sources, Downs has created a vivid account of illness, contagion, suffering, and death among Black soldiers and newly freed people during the Civil War and its aftermath.

Johanna Fernández, The Young Lords: A Radical History (University of North Carolina Press, 2020): In a thoroughly researched narrative, Fernández situates the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords in the context of 1960s U.S. political and cultural history. She links its mission and goals to current movements focusing on civil and social justice issues.

Jacqueline H. Wolf, Cesarean Section: An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018): At a time when nearly one-third of American births are by cesarean section, it is crucial to understand this surgery, its purpose—and its dangers. Using oral histories and extensive research, Wolf has written an important account of this procedure and its now unquestioned place in current American birth practices.

David S. Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality Since 1600 (Harvard University Press, 2004): Through the lens of health disparities, Jones studies four distinct episodes of contagious disease in Native peoples in the United States from the 17th through the 19th centuries. He analyzes these episodes and disparities within a complex framework of economic and political considerations and offers new insight into their importance.

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Books on epidemics and contagion are of course very timely in this third year of life with COVID-19.

Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (University of California Press, 2001): Shah begins with the history of an 1876 smallpox epidemic in San Francisco in which the city’s Chinese residents were unfairly blamed for the spread of the disease. His study of outbreaks and contagion continues into the 1950s, while continually paying particular attention to the physical space of Chinatown and its representation in the public eye.

Charles Vidich, Germs at Bay: Politics, Public Health, and American Quarantine (Praeger, 2021): As global lockdowns, pauses, and reopenings have made clear, fighting endemic disease takes many tools and strategies. In this timely book, Vidich studies how officials used quarantine throughout American history.

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A cluster of books focuses on illness, diagnosis, and disability.

Elinor Cleghorn, Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-made World (Dutton, 2021): Suffering from an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder but finding little clinical and medical support, Cleghorn undertook an investigation of how medicine has historically misdiagnosed women or left them to suffer the effects of illness without proper treatment. The result of her research is a fascinating look at women’s illnesses and misdiagnoses.

Emily K. Abel, Sick and Tired: An Intimate History of Fatigue (University of North Carolina Press, 2021): Abel studies fatigue, an often underdiagnosed syndrome of puzzling symptoms and outcomes. She analyzes both our culture’s disdain for those with fatigue and its admiration for productivity and devotion to work.

The Oxford Handbook of Disability History, edited by Michael Rembis, Catherine Kudlick, and Kim E. Nielsen (Oxford University Press, 2018): This handbook is a comprehensive, globe-spanning analysis of disability history written by 29 different experts.

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Addictive substances are examined in these two titles, one reaching back to the 17th and 18th centuries and the other an of-the-moment examination of cigarette marketing.

Keith Wailoo, Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette (University of Chicago Press, 2021): At the end of April, the FDA finally released its proposed rule to ban menthol cigarettes. Wailoo’s excellent history of menthol cigarettes in the United States and their prevalence among Black American smokers provides the background to understand this overdue action and the harmful nexus of targeted advertising, race, and tobacco.

Benjamin Breen, The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019): Addictive substances are further studied in Breen’s account of opium, tobacco, sugar cane, coffee, and other substances. His insight is to look at these substances in a purely historical lens, back before they were categorized the way we see and purpose them now.

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We added to our collection of biographies of figures in medicine with these titles.

David A. Johnson, Diploma Mills: The Rise and Fall of Dr. John Buchanan and the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania (Kent State University Press, 2018): Johnson’s account of the reprobate Dr. John Buchanan and how he turned the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania into an unseemly diploma mill is a fascinating story of a little-known piece of American medical history. Buchanan’s scheming and lying culminated in faking his death in a pretended drowning.

Howard Markel, The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2021): Markel focuses on the personalities of the ambitious scientists who discovered the key to understanding DNA, paying particular attention to Rosalind Franklin, a female Jewish scientist at King’s College at a time when there were not many women in the field. Franklin’s key contributions to the discovery have often been overlooked in the focus on the male scientists, particularly Watson and Crick. Markel skillfully tells a complicated story with sensitivity and exactitude.

James L. Nolan Jr., Atomic Doctors: Conscience and Complicity at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020): After the death of Nolan’s father his mother gave him a box of materials about his paternal grandfather, a radiologist who had worked on the secretive Manhattan Project. During his search for more information about his grandfather and others on the project, Nolan ponders the ethics of medical professionals working on lethal weapons.

John M. Harris, Professionalizing Medicine: James Reeves and the Choices That Shaped American Health Care (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019): In this well-researched biography of West Virginia physician James Reeves, Harris details Reeves’s accomplishments in professionalizing 19th-century medicine and the field of public health in the United States: pressing for the arrest of doctors who practiced without licenses; working to establish the West Virginia Board of Health; and co-founding the American Public Health Association.

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Black Surgeons and Surgery in America, editor Don K. Nakayama; principal contributors Peter J. Kernahan, Edward E. Cornwell (American College of Surgeons, 2021): Spanning American history from the colonial era to today, the book places numerous Black surgeons in their historical context while detailing their professional achievements. Particularly noteworthy is the chapter recounting the story of the 14 enslaved women Dr. J. Marion Sims operated on without anesthesia in his attempts to repair vaginal fistulas; the book is dedicated to Lucy, Betsey, Anarcha, and the 11 women whose names are unknown.

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Finally, Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy (Getty Research Institute, 2022) is a gorgeously illustrated new book about anatomy, edited by Monique Kornell. One can spend hours paging through its exceptional illustrations, looking at the detail of the images, and reading the accompanying scholarly essays that complement the visual wonder of the book.

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I hope this roundup has inspired your interest in our ever-growing collections. For more books and other resources, the Library’s catalog can be explored here.

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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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