Scent Track

Today’s guest post is written by Ann-Sophie Barwich, Ph.D., scholar in the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program at the Center for Science and Society, Columbia University. Her work is on current and past developments in olfactory research (1600 to today). On Wednesday, April 26, Barwich will give her talk, “Scent Track: What can the History of Olfaction tell us about Theorizing in the Life Sciences?” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Scientific interest in the senses has always been preoccupied with vision and its underlying mechanisms. In comparison, smell is one our least understood senses. This may sound surprising given the importance of smell in flavor perception. Human cuisine represents one of the most central elements of human culture. While the cultural history of scent has gathered sufficient attraction in the humanities and social sciences, its scientific history has yet to be told.

Many of the central research questions about the characteristics of olfaction remain unresolved even to date. How do we classify smells? How many smells are there, and is there such a thing as olfactory primaries? Modern research on smell was revolutionized with the discovery of the olfactory receptors by Linda Buck and Richard Axel in 1991. Their discovery presented the key causal entity to model the molecular basis of smell and granted them the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine. Since then, olfaction started to emerge as a modern model system in neuroscience.

Nonetheless, records of scientific theorizing about the material basis of odor reach much further back. These hidden experimental records of research on smell offer us an intriguing, yet untold, history of creativity in scientific reasoning. For large parts of the history of science, scientific approaches to smell were faced with its apparent lack of testability. An inherent difficulty for odor description and classification is that sense of smell is incredibly hard to study in a controlled setting. How do you visualize and materialize odor to turn it into an object of objective measurement and comparison? In reply to these questions, several answers were developed from various disciplinary perspectives throughout the past centuries. These ideas present a hidden heuristic source for widening our theoretical understanding of smell even today.

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Linnaeus’ classification of odors in medicinal plants in his Clavis Medicinae (1766).

My talk reconstructs a conceptual history of materiality that has informed scientific approaches to smell, and I analyze this material history of olfaction by three stages. First, smells are investigated as “objects in nature,” drawing on 18th-century expertise in botany and horticulture that arranged odors according to their diverse plant origins. Botanical classifications, such as in Linnaeus’ Odores Medicamentorum (1752) and Clavis Medicinae (1766), conceptualized odors as objects in nature. Here, the affective nature of smell was investigated with regard to the medicinal powers of plants. Meanwhile, perfumers have always experimented with odorous plant substances but their knowledge was a well-kept secret. Some records, such as George William Septimus Piesse’s The Art of Perfumery (1857), illustrate that these practices addressed the various possibilities for the material manipulation of odorous substances (e.g., through mechanical force, solvent extraction, distillation). They further conceptualized the psychological effects of odor by analogy with other sensory qualities such as taste, color, and sound. Can we blend odors like colors? Can we understand the harmony between odor notes in parallel with musical chords?

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Analogy of odors with sounds to define harmonic chords in perfumery. Source: Piesse 1857, The Art of Perfumery.

Second, smells are framed as “objects of production” in light of the industrialization of perfumery after the rise of synthetic chemistry at the end of the 19th-century. In earlier chemistry, smells were modeled as immaterial spirits that represented vital forces, such as in the Spiritus Rector theory by Herman Boerhaave. This theory was soon abandoned by a more mechanistic causal understanding of odorous particles, especially after Antoine-François de Fourcroy’s extraction of urea as the ‘smelling principle’ of horse urine. This discovery of the chemical basis of odors and its subsequent exploration with the rise of synthetic chemistry presented a fundamental conceptual liberation of smells from their plant origins. New scents, sometimes even unknown in nature, were now produced in the laboratory.

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Vanillin was first synthesized by Ferdinand Tiemann and Wilhelm Haarmann in 1874. It’s synthesis, illustrated above, was further refined by Karl Reimer in 1874. Source: Wikipedia (Yikrazuul).

Third, the introduction of molecular visualization and computational techniques in the 20th century abstracted smells further from their natural origins, and this advancement laid the foundation for smells to turn into what Hans-Jörg Rheinberger calls “epistemic objects.” This transformation signifies the integration of smell into the growing scientific domain of biochemical science. Confronted with the sheer diversity of chemical structures responsible for odor qualities, the classification of smells now required the integration of two seemingly separate data sets: a stimulus classification of chemical similarity on the one hand and an ordering of perceptual classes on the other. In this context, the food scientist John Amoore proposed a classification of five to seven primary odors in the 1960s and 1970s.

While this classificatory strategy was soon rendered too simplistic, it provides one of the earliest expressions of a central question in modern olfactory research: How does the chemical basis of odors relate to their perceptual quality? Can we predict smells from the molecular structure of their stimuli? Notably, this question remains open but of central scientific interest today.

Join us on Wednesday, April 26 to learn more about this topic. To RSVP to this free lecture, click HERE.

 

Robert L. Dickinson: Doctor and Artist

Today’s guest post is written by Rose Holz, Ph.D., historian of medicine and sexuality at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where she serves as the Associate Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program and Director of Humanities in Medicine.  She is the author of The Birth Control Clinic in a Marketplace World (Rochester, 2012). Her current project investigates the intersection of medicine and art by way Dr. Robert L. Dickinson (1861-1950) — gynecologist, sexologist, and artist extraordinaire — and his prolific ten-year collaboration with fellow artist Abram Belskie (1907-1988). Not only did it yield in 1939 the hugely influential Birth Series sculptures but also hundreds of medical teaching models about women’s and men’s sexual anatomies. On Thursday, April 13, Rose will give her talk, “Art in the Service of Medical Education: The Robert L. Dickinson-Belskie Birth Series and the Use of Sculpture to Teach the Process of Human Development from Fertilization Through Delivery.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

My interest in Dr. Robert L. Dickinson began many years ago when I was in graduate school, working on my Ph.D. in history and writing my dissertation on the history of birth control clinics in America. And, as has been the case with so many other scholars who have written about matters related to women, medicine, and sexuality in the twentieth century U.S., Dickinson made his brief cameo entrance into my story, though not without leaving behind a lasting impression.

For me it was the images — because, like me, Dickinson was compelled to color and draw. Early on, while pouring over Planned Parenthood records, I remember chuckling over a letter he had written to a contraceptive manufacturer complaining about the poor quality of one of their products, to which he then attached a drawing to illustrate his case.

Then there were the birth control manuals Dickinson wrote in the 1930s. Not only did he illustrate all the contraceptive methods then available, but he also offered birds-eye-view, architectural-style drawings to visualize how best to lay out gynecological clinics. More intriguingly still was what he included at the center of this architectural drawing, a tiny woman lying on the gynecological table with her legs spread wide open as the doctor conducted the physical exam.

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Pages from “Control of Contraception (2nd edition)” by Robert L. Dickinson.

As somebody who also loves small things—especially miniature worlds populated by miniature people—I could not help but find myself be smitten by this unusual man. However, at the time I had a different story to tell, a Ph.D. to defend, and a new job as a professor to pursue. And as the years passed, Dickinson slowly receded into the background.

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Drawings of the location of Embryo and size of Fetus. Source.

But Dickinson is not one to be denied, and that he has remained in obscurity for so long somehow explains to me why he has resurfaced—with a glorious vengeance—into my imagination. Indeed, he has made it clear to me that his story will be told; his skills as a doctor and artist properly recognized. And he has made it further clear that this story will begin with what he created in the twilight of his life: The 1939 Birth Series sculptures.

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Dickinson and Belskie’s “Sculptured Teaching Models Collection.” From the unprocessed Abram Belskie Papers, Belskie Museum, Closter, NJ.

Join us on Thursday, April 13 to learn more about Dr. Robert L. Dickinson and his Birth Series sculptures. To RSVP to this free lecture, click HERE.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Immunization Advocacy

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Rosner, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History at Stockton University. Recent publications include The Anatomy Murders (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and Vaccination and Its Critics (ABC-Clio, 2017). She is the project director and game developer for The Pox Hunter, funded by an NEH Digital Projects for the Public grant.  On Thursday, April 6, Lisa will give her talk, “Lady Mary’s Legacy: Vaccine Advocacy from The Turkish Embassy Letters to Video Games.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

In a letter dated April 1, 1717 – 300 years ago — Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762), the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey, provided the first report from an elite European patient’s perspective of the middle-eastern practice of inoculation, or ingrafting, to prevent smallpox. She wrote to her dear friend, Sarah Chiswell:

“I am going to tell you a thing that will make you wish yourself here. The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless, by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what vein you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her, with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle, and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins…

The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark, and in eight days time they are as well as before their illness. Where they are wounded, there remains running sores during the distemper, which I don’t doubt is a great relief to it. Every year, thousands undergo this operation, and the French Ambassador says pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son.”

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Mary Wortley Montagu with her son Edward, by Jean-Baptiste van Mour. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This is probably the most famous passage in all Lady Mary’s voluminous correspondence. It deserves even more attention than it usually gets, because it is the first example, in the western history of medicine, of a mother’s perspective on the practice of immunization. We tend to hear a great deal from scientists like Jenner about their discoveries, but much less from mothers who adopted their techniques for children.

But Lady Mary was not just a mother, she was also an acute observer with an inventive and inquisitive mind, and a particular interest in what we would now call public health practices. She had lost a beloved brother to smallpox; she had also contracted the disease, and though she survived, she carried the scars for the rest of her life. As she traveled from London to Constantinople, she was particularly interested in innovations and cultural attitudes toward hygiene and domestic health, especially as they affected women’s lives.

Her enthusiasm for light, clean, airy environments comes through in her very first letter, written from the Netherlands. She wrote:

“All the streets are paved with broad stones and before many of the meanest artificers doors are placed seats of various coloured marbles, so neatly kept, that, I assure you, I walked almost all over the town yesterday, incognito, in my slippers without receiving one spot of dirt; and you may see the Dutch maids washing the pavement of the street, with more application than ours do our bed-chambers.”

For that reason, she noted:

“Nothing can be more agreeable than travelling in Holland. The whole country appears a large garden; the roads are well paved, shaded on each side with rows of trees.”

She was much less pleased with Vienna, for though there were certainly many magnificent sights, the city itself was dark and crowded. She complained:

“As the town is too little for the number of the people that desire to live in it, the builders seem to have projected to repair that misfortune, by clapping one town on the top of another, most of the houses being of five, and some of them six stories … The streets being so narrow, the rooms are extremely dark; and, what is an inconveniency much more intolerable … there is no house has so few as five or six families in it.”

As her travels continued throughout the fall and winter, another custom, neglected in England, caught her attention: the stove, valuable for warmth and for lengthening the growing season. At one of the formal dinners she attended, she was offered oranges and bananas and wondered how they could possibly be grown in Austria. She wrote:

“Upon inquiry I learnt that they have brought their stoves to such perfection, they lengthen their summer as long as they please, giving to every plant the degree of heat it would receive from the sun in its native soil. The effect is very near the same; I am surprised we do not practise [sic] in England so useful an invention. This reflection leads me to consider our obstinacy in shaking with cold, five months in the year rather than make use of stoves, which are certainly one of the greatest conveniencies [sic] of life.”

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Mary Wortley Montagu in Turkish dress. Souce: Wikimedia Commons.

When she arrived in Constantinople and spent time with ladies of the court, both Turkish and European, Lady Mary continued to pursue her interest in gardens, in baths, in the light airy spaces found in both European and Turkish households. She was not the first European to report on the practice of “ingrafting”: her family physician in Constantinople, Dr. Emmanuel Timoni, had previously sent a report to the Royal Society of London. But seeing a disease, so dangerous in Europe, treated as an excuse for a children’s party turned her into an advocate. As she wrote:

“I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England, and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue, for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment, the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them. Upon this occasion, admire the heroism in the heart of your friend.”

After she returned to London, she kept her promise “to war” with the physicians in support of inoculation. When smallpox broke out in her social circle in 1722, she decided to inoculate her daughter, and the operation was performed with great success. Physicians who visited her found “Miss Wortley playing about the Room, cheerful and well,” with a few slight marks of smallpox. Those soon healed, and the child recovered completely. The visiting physicians were impressed, and they began to incorporate inoculation into their own practices.

As the epidemic raged, Lady Mary convinced her most prominent friend, Caroline, Princess of Wales, to inoculate the two royal princesses, Amelia and Caroline. Having received the royal seal of approval, smallpox inoculation became fashionable practice among British elites throughout the 18th century.

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Memorial to the Rt. Hon. Lady Mary Wortley Montague erected in Lichfield Cathedral by Henrietta Inge. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1789, Mrs. Henrietta Inge, Lady Mary’s niece, erected a memorial to her accomplishments in Litchfield Cathedral. The text reads:

“[She] happily introduc’d from Turkey, into this country the Salutary Art Of inoculating the Small-Pox. Convinc’d of its Efficacy She first tried it with Success on her own Children, And then recommended the practice of it To her fell-w-Citizens. Thus by her Example and Advice, We have soften’d the Virulence, And excap’d the danger of this malignant Disease.”

We can recognize in Lady Mary – and in Mrs. Inge — advocates of a kind met with very frequently in the history of vaccination: mothers whose personal experience led them to champion the discoveries that preserved their family’s health and well-being.

Bibliography:

  1. Grundy, Isobel. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  1. Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley. Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Written during her travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Paris: Firman Didot, 1822. Available in many editions online.
  1. Rosner, Lisa. Vaccination and Its Critics. A Documentary and Reference Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017.

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Infectious Madness, the Well Curve and the Microbial Roots of Mental Disturbance

3cfce0fe054a12627f41292ec26e6b22Today’s guest post is written by Harriet Washington, a science writer, editor and ethicist. She is  the author of several books, including Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Experimentation from Colonial Times to the Present. On Wednesday, March 15 at 6pm, Washington will discuss: “Infectious Madness, the Well Curve and the Microbial Roots of Mental Disturbance.” In this talk, based on her book Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We “Catch” Mental Illness, Washington traces the history, culture and some disturbing contemporary manifestations of this ‘infection connection.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

“Mind, independent of experience, is inconceivable.” —Franz Boas

Psychological trauma, stress, genetic anomalies and other experiences that limit the healthy functioning of the mind and brain are widely recognized as key factors in the development of schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder.  However, despite a plethora of examples and evidence of microbial disorders from rabies to paresis, infection has been slow to join the pantheon.  This aversion persists largely because the perceived causes of mental disorders have evolved not only with our scientific knowledge of medicine but also with our tenacious cultural beliefs and biases.  Instead, we have long clung to what  Robert Sapolsky calls a “primordial muck” of attribution that includes broken taboos, sin—one’s own or one’s forbears’— and even bad mothering.

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Representation of the dancing mania by Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger.Source.

Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1636) painted the above representation of the dancing mania known as choreomania or St. Anthony’s Fire, which has seized a pilgrimage of epileptics en route to the church at Molenbeek. Such compulsive dancing was originally ascribed to satanic influence such as bewitchment, and later to a collective hysterical disorder, but is now ascribed to ergotism— the  infection of rye and other grains by the fungus Claviceps purpurea.  When people ate the tainted bread, their symptoms included compulsive dancing. Some have ascribed the mass hysteria of the Salem witch trials to ergotism.  Streptoccocal infections have also produced cases called Sydenham’s chorea.

Not all traditional “causes” of mental illness are confined to the past.  As late as the 1980s, the alternating rage, coldness and oppressive affection of domineering “schizophrenogenic mothers” was taught in psychology classes as the root of schizophrenia, just as Tourette’s syndrome initially was laid to poor parenting.

For Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We “Catch” Mental Illness, I interviewed scientists working on the effects of infections on mental health such as Susan Swedo, chief of the pediatrics and developmental neuroscience branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, who studies the role of Group A strep (GAS) infections in children in rapid-onset cases of obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, and Tourette syndrome. Other visionary researchers, such as E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of Maryland’s Stanley Medical Research Institute, and Robert Yolken, director of developmental neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University, have for decades investigated the role of microbes in mental illness and have traced the path of viruses such as influenza, herpes simplex and Toxoplasma  gondii, among other microbes, in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There are a myriad of ways in which infections cause or encourage mental disease. In order to suit its own need to reproduce within the stomach of a cat, the unicellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii changes the behavior of rodents — and incidentally, use it to gain entry. This seems strange, but changing the behavior of a host to suit its own needs is a common stratagem of parasites. The Cordyceps fungus, for example, manipulates an ant in the Amazon into climbing a tree where the fungal spores can be more widely disseminated. The spore- bearing branches extend from the corpse of the ant pictured below.

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The Cordyceps fungus manipulates an ant in the Amazon into climbing a tree where the fungal spores can be more widely disseminated. The spore-bearing branches extend from the corpse of the ant.Photograph © Gregory Dimijian, MD.

Infection, redux

“Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again.” —Goethe

There is a long, all but forgotten history of infectious theories of mental illness. In his 1812 psychiatry text Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind, for example, Benjamin Rush, MD, included a first detailed taxonomy of mental disorders, each with its own physical cause. He cited disruptions of blood circulation and  sensory overload as the basis of mental illness, and he treated his patients with devices meant to improve circulation to the brain, including such Rube Goldberg designs as a centrifugal spinning board, or to decrease sensory perceptions, such as a restraining chair with a head enclosure.

Restraining Chair

Pictured here is the “tranquilizing chair” in which patients were confined. The chair was supposed to control the flow of blood toward the brain and, by lessening muscular action or reducing motor activity, reduce the force and frequency of the pulse.Photograph © 2008 Hoag Levins.

Paresis, an infectious mental disorder

In 1857, Drs. Johannes Friedrich Esmark and W. Jessen suggested a biological cause for paresis: syphilis. Many researchers started to view paresis as the tertiary stage of syphilis, which often attacked the brain indiscriminately, and they began referring to it as neurosyphilis. This theory held out hope that if syphilis was ever cured, paresis could be too.

Nineteenth-century asylum keepers, however, persisted in viewing paresis as wholly mental in character. The long-standing insistence on divorcing physical illnesses from mental ones had to do with religious philosophy and culture but also with the politics of the asylum, which remained a battleground between physicians and religious and philosophical healers.

Matters were complicated by the fact that most physicians, despite the evidence that paresis was the mental manifestation of a physical disease, continued to treat paretics with the same ineffectual therapeutics given other mentally ill patients. Traditional treatments such as “douches, cold packs, mercury, blistering of the scalp, venesection, leeching, sexual abstinence, and holes drilled into the skull [trephination]” continued—without positive results. Even when toxic mercury-based treatments for syphilis were replaced by Paul Ehrlich’s safer, more effective arsenic-based Salvarsan (also called arsphenamine and compound 606), it was not used against paresis.

But in June 1917, Professor Julius Wagner-Jauregg of the University of Vienna Hospital for Nervous and Mental Diseases undertook a radical approach. He had noticed that some paretic patients improved markedly after contracting an infectious illness that gave them fevers. He decided to fight fire with fire by turning one disease against another: he sought to suppress the symptoms of paresis by infecting its sufferers with malaria.

Before Wagner-Jauregg won the Nobel and Freud forged the future of psychiatry, a paradigm shift had already taken place that transformed science’s approach to the nature of disease. It is the very framework that supports the role of infection in mental illness—germ theory. Developed by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, germ theory posits that specific microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and prions (infectious proteins) cause illness.

For more on this fascinating topic, join Harriet Washington on Wednesday, March 15 at 6pm.  More information can be found here

“Feminist Futures” Class Review

By Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

For three hours each Monday evening, January 30 through February 20, the Academy hosted a Brooklyn Institute for Social Research class called Feminist Futures, for which I was lucky enough to be the staff liaison. My classmates ran the gamut from PhD students to artists to professors to web developers to librarians and archivists. Our professor, Danya Glabau, guided us through the intellectual history of the intersection of science studies and feminist theory. Professor Glabau’s syllabus included the writings of such luminaries as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Evelyn Fox Keller, and Emily Martin. To complement these readings, the Academy was able to provide some of its own treasures as well.

One such item was the Traité d’osteologié, published in 1759 with text by the Scottish anatomist Alexander Monro and illustrations supervised by Marie Geneviève Charlotte Thiroux D’Arconville.  D’Arconville studied anatomy at the Jardin Du Roi and translated Monro’s earlier text into French for this volume. Although her name does not appear anywhere in the text (her plates were published under the protection of Jean-Jacques Sue, a member of the French Royal Academy), it is generally accepted that d’Arconville is the hand behind the gorgeous images. Among her plates are incredible depictions of male and female skeletons that display features associated with each gender. She renders the male skeleton as large and statuesque and places him in front of a backdrop of Classical architecture. Her female skeleton, on the other hand, is more petite and stands in a less assertive position. Noticeably, her rib cage is extremely narrow while her wide hips and pelvis are very emphasized. There is speculation that the image of a narrow rib cage is meant to associate the skeleton with upper class women who usually wore corsets.

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Female skeleton from Traité d’osteologié (1759)

Paired with this item for a unit titled “Feminist Objectivity” were Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Karen Barad’s “Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism Without Contradiction,” and Michelle Murphy’s “Immodest Witnessing: The Epistemology of Vaginal Self-Examination in the U.S. Feminist Self-Help Movement.” Among other topics, we guessed at what our authors might have thought of today’s quantified-self movement and whether or not data about the self could be categorized as an extension of that self. Further, we asked: what happens to this paradigm when you engage with its exponential commodification? Could self-awareness excuse the self from the ‘wrong type’ of objectification? We also spent a significant part of the class analyzing what Haraway’s idea of “seeing from below” might mean in our current political climate.[1] We queried, is it possible to adopt Haraway’s type of situated knowledge and avoid being ableist?

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“Feminist Futures” class taking place at the Academy.Image source: Suzanne Schneider, Director of Operations and Core Faculty at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

One of my favorite quotes from this part of the course was “rational knowledge does not pretend to disengagement.”[2] I took this to mean that pushing for a type of feminist objectivity that highlights seeing from below and/or something Barad calls “agential realism” does not mean that you are disengaging from your subject.[3] Rather, it means that you are striving towards a feminist typology of embodiment that focuses its recuperative energies on welcoming emotions and relationships as data, all the while keeping in mind that “no knowledge is innocent.”[4] This was a very powerful idea to me as a woman working at the Academy in a nexus of technology, history, and public service.

We rounded out the class with a viewing of Crania America, a book published in 1889 by Samuel George Morton, a famed phrenologist. Included in his tome are illustrations of different race’s skulls along with commentary on their corresponding mental abilities. He describes his project as demonstrating that  “a particular size and form of brain is the invariable concomitant of particular dispositions and talents, and that this fact holds good in the case of nations as well as of individuals.”[5] He goes onto say that:

A knowledge of the size of the brain, and the proportions of its different parts, in the different varieties of the human race, will be the key to a correct appreciation of the differences in their natural mental endowments, on which external circumstances act only as modifying influences….[5]

As you can imagine, this item generated a passionate conversation. Highlights included discovering that the roots of cybernetics (a field which began in WWII) come from the ancient Greek adjective κυβερνητικός, meaning ‘good at steering’ (n.b. the militaristic and authoritative implications); the theory behind Chela Sandoval’s term “US third-world feminist”; and the layered irony within our assigned texts regarding authority and boundaries.

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Skull from Crania America (1889)

While this course was challenging, we made sure to keep the conversation approachable and friendly. This litmus test of a Brooklyn Institute for Social Research-The New York Academy of Medicine Library collaboration solidified our belief that:

Together [our two institutions] can make the histories, presents, and futures of science and technology relevant to the lives of work adults, supporting the development of knowledge and interest in these crucial aspects of our complex and ever-changing society. (Professor Glabau)

We hope you join us next time!

References:

[1] Haraway D. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies. 1988; 14(3): 575-599. (Quote on p.583).
[2] Haraway D. Simians, cyborgs, and women: the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge;1991. (Quote on p. 196).
[3] Barad K. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism without Contradiction. Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science. 1996;256: 161-194. (Quote on p.179).
[4] Warren K, Cheney J. Ecological Feminism and Ecosystem Ecology. Hypatia. 1991;6(1): 179-197. (Quote on p. 191).
[5] Morton S. Crania americana. Philadelphia: London, J. Dobson; Simpkin, Marshall & Co;1839. (Quote on p. 274).

The Marrow of Tragedy: Disease and Diversity in Civil War Medicine

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Margaret Humphreys, Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine at Duke University. She is the author of Yellow Fever and the South (Rutgers, 1992) and Malaria: Poverty, Race and Public Health in the United States (Johns Hopkins, 2001), Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in American Civil War (2008) and Marrow of Tragedy: The Health Crisis of the American Civil War (2013). On Tuesday, February 21 at 6pm, Humphreys will give The John K. Lattimer Lecture: “The Marrow of Tragedy: Disease and Diversity in Civil War Medicine.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

In a memorable scene from the movie Gone with the Wind, Southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara, picks her way through the battle-wounded men lying on the ground near the train station in Atlanta, frantically seeking Dr. Meade to help her with her sister-in-law Melanie’s imminent delivery.  Meade brushes her off and turns to a screaming soldier, telling him that his leg would have to come off, and without anesthesia.  The man’s screams echo as Scarlett heads back to Melanie’s bedside.  This cinematic portrayal of Civil War medicine reflects a wide belief that there was no anesthesia at that time.  Indeed, it was said that the war occurred “at the end of the medical middle ages.”  (This quotation is widely attributed to Union Surgeon General William Hammond, but without citation).

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Scene from Gone with the Wind (1939).

In my book, Marrow of Tragedy: The Health Crisis of the American Civil War, I begin from a different perspective, recognizing that there was such a thing as “good medicine” and “bad medicine” during the War.  Medical care could be effective, and it could make a difference in disease and injury outcomes.  For example, chloroform and ether anesthesia meant most surgery occurred with the patient unconscious (although Confederate surgeons did run out of these supplies in desperate circumstances, such as the siege of Atlanta near the end of the war).

Alarming as the notion of amputation completely without anesthesia, are the revealing mortality rates from disease at this point in the war. Put simply, for every one white Union soldier who died of disease during the War, a little over two black Union soldiers died, and almost three Confederates succumbed.[i]

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Image source: Getty Images.

How can we account for these differences?  A major factor was the quality and quantity of food, a core ingredient of the modern concept of “social determinants of health.”  White Union troops also received better hospital care, calling on part of the strong social networks of the folks back home and their political impact.  The Union hospital system was much better funded, with full access to important medicines, such as quinine, opiates, and anesthetics; and the technology of cleanliness, which included clothing, soap, and disinfectants.  Nursing care was key, as well, with northern hospitals staffed by volunteer nurses, while those in the south were often civilians or slaves challenged by lack of formal training as well as lack of resources.

To learn more about Civil War medicine, join us on Tuesday, February 21 at 6pm. Register HERE.

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Image source: Harper’s Weekly, April 9, 1864.

 

Note:

[i] Actual numbers, per 1000, were 63, 143, and 167, respectively.

Aldrovandi’s Quadrupeds, and #ColorOurCollections: Day 4

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It’s the fourth day of #ColorOurCollections, a week-long special collections coloring fest we’ve organized on social media. Check out all the coloring books at colorourcollections.org.

A set of charming four-footed beasts from the quadrupeds volume of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s (1522-1605) multi-volume  natural history encyclopedia is our choice for today’s coloring sheets.

Aldrovandi grew up in Bologna as the privileged son of a noble family.  His father, Teseo Aldrovandi, served as secretary for the Senate of Bologna and his mother was a first cousin of Pope Gregory XIII.  From an early age, Aldrovandi displayed a restless intelligence, studying mathematics, law and philosophy before finally earning a degree in medicine and philosophy from the University of Padua in 1553.

By the time he earned his degree, Aldrovandi had already developed a passionate interest in natural history.  A popular teacher, he taught philosophy and other subjects at the University of Bologna before he was appointed the first professor of natural sciences in 1561.  Aldrovandi’s interest was sparked by personal encounters with other major figures in the world of 16th century natural history, including the ichthyologist Guillaume Rondelet and the botanist Luca Ghini. While Ghini failed in his attempts to garner support for the establishment of a botanical garden in Bologna, Aldrovandi was successful, founding the garden with the support of the Senate in 1568 and serving as its director for almost 40 years.  He also travelled widely, often with students, to collect plants  and natural history specimens.

Over the course of his lifetime, Aldrovandi assembled a natural history museum of 18,000 specimens, as well as an extensive herbarium.  Only four of the thirteen volumes of his magisterial Storia Naturale were published during his lifetime; the others appeared posthumously over a period of decades.  He left the museum collections, his library, his unpublished manuscripts, drawings, water colors and the wood blocks that were meant to be used to illustrate the encyclopedia volumes to the city of Bologna when he died.  A portion of the specimen collections can be visited today in the Istituto delle scienze at the Palazzo Poggi, while the manuscripts, watercolors, and wood blocks are available for study in the library at the University of Bologna.

If you like Aldrovandi’s majestic beasts, you’ll love the following coloring pages from our participating institutions.

We’re mesmerized by Dittrick Medical History Center‘s beautiful Anatomy of an Horse (1683) by Andrew Snape.

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Enjoy coloring the many details of University of Strathclyde Glasgow‘s regal lion from Michael Maire’s Atalanta Fugiens (1618).

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Finally, here is the legendary manticore for your coloring delight. The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History adds a bit of whimsy with Historie of foure-footed beastes(1658) by Edward Topsell.

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Check back in tomorrow for the last day of #ColorOurCollections!

 

Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal, and #ColorOurCollections: Day 2

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Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal has quite a curious publication story.  We’ve transformed six images from this stunning eighteenth-century botanical first published in 1737 in London into coloring sheets.

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Blackwell’s melon, colored by library staff member, Emily Miranker.

Aberdeen-born Elizabeth Blackwell (1700-1758), the daughter of a successful merchant, married her cousin Alexander Blackwell at age 28.  Though trained in reading Greek and Latin, Alexander practiced as a physician in Aberdeen, without appropriate permissions. The couple relocated to London when his right to practice medicine in Aberdeen was challenged.  In London, Blackwell opened a printing shop—again without the proper credentials, and again with less than stellar results.  When he couldn’t pay his business debts, he was installed at the city’s Highgate Prison.

Elizabeth, by then a mother, needed to find a way to support her family.  The printer’s shop she operated with her husband had made her a savvy observer of the book marketplace.  She realized that a new high quality herbal including New World species didn’t yet exist.  She took a room next to the Chelsea Physic Gardens, which exhibited some of the new American plants.  Later, she ferried the finished drawings to the prison at Highgate, where her husband supplied the Latin and Greek names of the plants and their uses. Some American plants, like sassafras, native to Virginia, were given only the English and Latin names.

Alexander also offered counsel on the plants’ medicinal uses.  The text accompanying sweet gum, here, “sweet cistus of candy” attests that it “Stays Vomiting” and that “the Fume of it Comforts the Brain” (we’re hoping that these same effects can be said about the practice of coloring these images).

blackwell_watermarkblackwell3Elizabeth was not only responsible for the drawings themselves, but did the engravings of the drawings on copper plates for printing.  In many copies, she hand-colored every single plate.  The images were first published at a rate of four a week, beginning in 1737, but through her own connections and market-savvy, she soon secured a book deal.  With the profits, Elizabeth was able to secure Alexander’s release from Highgate Prison, though their reunion was temporary (later he was put to death in Sweden for treason, though that is another story).

This week, we’re grateful that our own copy of Blackwell’s Curious Herbal is gloriously pristine so that we could transform them into a bouquet of coloring sheets.

In need of color specifics?  Blackwell’s text gives vivid, precise descriptions of the hues of her selected plants.  Great Bindweed (v.1, plate 38), which blooms in the late summer, has leaves that are “a willow green” with “Flowers white,” while her Female Piony possesses “leaves a grass green and flowers a fire crimson.”

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We leave it to you imaginative colorists to fill in these pages in any range of glorious hues you like!

While we’re on a plant theme, let’s take a look at some beautiful coloring pages from participating institutions.

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New York Botanical Garden includes this lovely sunflower in their coloring book. Source: Basillius Besler, Hortus Eystettensis (1613).

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Williams College Libraries includes this ready-to-color image from Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium (1542).

Don’t forget to check out more coloring books at colorourcollections.org!

#ColorOurCollections: February 6-10, 2017

Get your crayons and colored pencils ready, we’re gearing up to #ColorOurCollections again! This year’s library social media coloring extravaganza will happen February 6th-10th. During that week, libraries, archives, special collections, and other cultural institutions around the world will share coloring sheets based on materials in their collections.  You will find these posts on social media with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections, as well as on our new website, colorourcollections.org.

Last year, more than 210 libraries and cultural institutions participated, representing 7 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand). Institutions, let’s make it even bigger this year. If you work in a library or special collection, join us in this fun initiative! Find out how to participate here.

If you can’t wait and want to sharpen those coloring skills, try your hand at one of our new coloring sheets. This illustration of 26 notable women comes from the pamphlet Famous women of the world published by the Pepsin Syrup Company, circa 1920.

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Winter/Spring 2017 Catalog: Events with a Unique Perspective

library-programming-winter-spring-2017-thumbWelcome to The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Winter/Spring 2017 cultural programming.  Today we launch a new season of events with a unique perspective on the history and culture of medicine and health, and what they mean for the future.

The upcoming season includes talks by prominent authors, historians and artists. Highlights include science writer Harriet Washington on the role of microbes in mental health (March 15), historian Lisa Rosner on the controversial history of vaccine advocacy starting in the 1700s (April 6), food journalist Sarah Lohman on garlic’s journey from a tuberculosis remedy to a food seasoning (June 5), and science writer Mary Roach on her new book GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War (June 12).

Legacies of War: Medical Innovations and Impacts,” our special 2017 event series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American entry into WWI, will explore how the experience of war has prompted medical innovation, including surgical techniques, prosthetics, ambulances, and trauma care. Speakers will also address the impact of conflict on the minds and bodies of soldiers and civilian populations, past and present. This series commences On February 21, with Prof. Margaret Humphreys (Duke University) speaking on “The Marrow of Tragedy: Disease and Diversity in Civil War Medicine.”

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To ensure the sustainability of our programs, we have added a nominal fee for our events. A number of events throughout the year remain free due to the generosity of our sponsors. Discounts continue to be available to our valued Friends of the Rare Book Room and Academy Fellows and Members, and we welcome students to attend for free.

Download the Winter/Spring 2017 programming catalog for more details. To register, click the names of events in the catalog, or visit www.NYAM.org/events.

We look forward to seeing you throughout the year.

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