The First Yellow Fever Pandemic: Slavery and Its Consequences

Today’s guest post is by Billy G. Smith, Distinguished Professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Montana State University. He earned his PhD at University of California Los Angeles. His research interests include disease; race, class and slavery; early America, and mapping early America.

Bird flu, SARS, Marburg, Ebola, HIV, West Nile Fever.  One of these diseases, or another, that spread from animals and mosquitoes to humans may soon kill most people on the planet.  More likely, the great majority of us will survive such a world-wide pandemic, and even now we have a heightened awareness that another one may be on the horizon.  This blog focuses on these issues in the past, outlining a virtually unknown voyage of death and disease that transformed the communities and nations bordering the Atlantic Ocean (what historians now refer to as the Atlantic World).  It traces the journey of a sailing ship that inadvertently instigated an epidemiological tragedy, thereby transforming North America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean islands.  This ship helped to create the first yellow fever pandemic.

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The Hankey. From “Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World.”

In 1792, the Hankey and two other ships carried nearly three hundred idealistic antislavery British radicals to Bolama, an island off the coast of West Africa, where they hoped to establish a colony designed to undermine the Atlantic slave trade by hiring rather than enslaving Africans.  Poor planning and tropical diseases, especially a particularly virulent strain of yellow fever likely contracted from the island’s numerous monkeys (through a mosquito vector), decimated the colonists and turned the enterprise into a tragic farce.

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 From “Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World.”

In early 1793, after most colonists had died and survivors had met resistance from the indigenous Bijagos for invading their lands, the Hankey attempted to return to Britain.  Disease-ridden, lacking healthy sailors, and fearing interception by hostile French ships, the colonists caught the trade winds to Grenada.  They and the mosquitoes in the water barrels spread yellow fever in that port and, very soon, throughout the West Indies.  This was only a few months before the British arrived to quell the slave rebellion in St. Domingue (now Haiti).  The British and subsequently the French military had their troops decimated by the disease—one reason why the slave revolution succeeded.  The crushing defeat in the Caribbean helped convince Napoleon to sell the vast Louisiana territory to the United States.  He turned eastward to expand his empire, altering the future of Europe and the Americas.

A few months after the Hankey arrived in the West Indies, commercial and refugee ships carried passengers and mosquitoes infected with yellow fever to Philadelphia, the nation’s capital during the 1790s.  The resulting epidemic killed five thousand people and forced tens of thousands of residents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other prominent federal government leaders, to flee for their lives.  The state, city, and federal government all collapsed, leaving it to individual citizens to save the nation’s capital.  Meanwhile, doctors fiercely debated whether “Bulama fever” (as many called it) was a “new” disease or a more virulent strain of yellow fever common in the West Indies.  Physicians like the noted Benjamin Rush fiercely debated the causes of and treatment for the disease.  They mostly bled and purged their patients, at times causing more harm than good because of the rudimentary state of medicine.

Among those who stepped forward to aid people and save the city were members of the newly emerging community of free African Americans. Led by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and Anne Saville, black Philadelphians volunteered to nurse the sick and bury the dead—both dangerous undertakings at the time.  Many African Americans and physicians, exposed to yellow-fever infected mosquitoes, made the ultimate sacrifice as both groups died in disproportionately high numbers.  When a newspaper editor subsequently maligned black people for their efforts, Jones and Allen wrote a vigorous response—among the first publications by African Americans in the new nation.

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For one of the first times in American history, blacks responded in print; Revd.s Allen and Jones published a pamphlet answering the charges; Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

During the ensuing decade, yellow fever went global, afflicting every port city in the new nation on an annual basis.  Epidemics also occurred in metropolitan areas throughout the Atlantic World, including North and South America, the Caribbean, southern Europe, and Africa.  Among other consequences, this disaster encouraged Americans to fear cities as hubs of death.  The future of the United States, as Thomas Jefferson argued, would be rural areas populated by yeomen farmers rather than the people in teeming metropolises.  The epidemics also helped solidify the decision of leaders of the new nation to move its capital to Washington D.C. and away from the high mortality associated with Philadelphia.

After the Hankey finally limped home to Britain, its crew was taken into service in the Royal Navy; few of them survived long.  More importantly, the image of Africa as the “white man’s graveyard” became even more established in Britain and France, thereby providing a partially protective barrier for Africa from European invasion until the advent of tropical medicine.  The “Bulama fever” plagued the Atlantic World for the next half century, appearing in epidemic form from Spain to Africa to North and South America.  The origins and treatment of the disease drew intense debates as medical treatment became highly politicized, and the incorrect idea that Africans enjoyed immunity to yellow fever became an important part of the scientific justification of racism in the early nineteenth century.

Join Billy Smith along with epidemiologist Michael Levy on October 24 for Sickness and the City for a conversation that uses both science and history to understand the intersection of urban development and the spread of contagions.

References
Billy G. Smith. Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

Dr. David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Early Republic

Today’s guest post is written by Victoria Johnson, author of  American Eden (Liveright, 2018). On October 9, Dr. Johnson will give a talk at the Academy on David Hosack (1769–1835), the visionary doctor who served as the attending physician at the Hamilton-Burr duel in 1804. Hosack founded or co-founded many medical institutions in New York City, among them nation’s first public botanical garden. The following is adapted from American Eden, which is on the longlist of ten works nominated for the National Book Award in Nonfiction for 2018.

David Hosack’s twin passions were medicine and nature. As a young medical student he risked his life to defend the controversial practice of corpse dissection because he knew it was the best chance doctors had to understand the diseases that killed Americans in droves every year. He studied with the great Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush and went on to become a celebrated medical professor in his own right. He drew crowds of students who hung on his every word and even wrote down his jokes in their notebooks. He performed surgeries never before documented on American soil and advocated smallpox vaccination at a time when many people were terrified of the idea. He pioneered the use of the stethoscope in the United States shortly after its invention in France in 1816. He published one innovative medical study after another—on breast cancer, anthrax, tetanus, obstetrics, the care of surgical wounds, and dozens of other subjects. In the early twentieth century, a medical journal paid tribute to Hosack’s many contributions by noting that “there is perhaps no one person in the nineteenth century to whom New York medicine is more deeply or widely indebted than to this learned, faithful, generous, liberal man.”[i]

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David Hosack’s admission card to Andrew Marshal’s anatomy course in London, 1793/94. Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.

Yet although Hosack found surgery vital and exciting, he was certain that saving lives also depended on knowing the natural world outside the human body. As a young man, he studied medicine and botany in Great Britain, and he returned to the United States convinced that it was at their intersection that Americans would find the most promising new treatments for the diseases that regularly swept the country. Hosack talked and wrote constantly about the natural riches that blanketed the North American continent. The health of the young nation, he argued, would depend on the health of its citizens, and thus on the skill of its doctors in using plants to prevent and treat illness.

In 1801, Hosack bought twenty acres of Manhattan farmland and founded the first public botanical garden in the young nation. He collected thousands of specimens and used them to teach his Columbia students and to supervise some of the nation’s earliest pharmaceutical research.

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David Hosack with his botanical garden in the distance. Engraving by Charles Heath, 1816, after oil paintings by Thomas Sully and John Trumbull, Collections of the National Library of Medicine.

Because of his garden, Hosack became one of the most famous Americans of his time. His medical research there cemented his reputation as the most innovative doctor in New York. When Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr needed an attending physician for their 1804 duel, they both chose David Hosack. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander von Humboldt, and Sir Joseph Banks sent Hosack plants and seeds for his garden and lavished praise on him. In 1816, he was elected to the Royal Society of London, an extraordinary honor for an American.

Today, though, few people know Hosack’s name, and his botanical garden grows skyscrapers year-round. It’s now Rockefeller Center.

Learn more about this luminary individual; join us for Losing Hamilton, Saving New York: Dr. David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Early Republic at the Academy on Tuesday October 9th at 6pm.

References:
[i] Dr. David Hosack and His Botanical Garden,” Medical News 85, no. 11 (1904): 517-19 [no author], p. 517.

 

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis Opens

By Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts and Rebecca Jacobs, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Museum of the City of New York

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Typist wearing mask, New York City, October, 16, 1918. Courtesy of the National Archives.

On certain October mornings during 1918, masks like the one in the above photograph would have been a common sight on New York’s streets. Men and women wore them on their commutes to work, or even while doing their jobs, as office workers, postal carriers, and sanitation workers. Over 30,000 New Yorkers died during the 1918 influenza pandemic. And yet, because the city had learned from other contagious disease outbreaks and adjusted its public response and infrastructure accordingly, these numbers were comparatively low side-by-side with other American cities.

A hundred years later, Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis, opening today at the Museum of the City of New York, explores New York City’s history of battles with contagious disease. The exhibition is co-presented with The New York Academy of Medicine, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust as part of their Contagious Cities project. Contagious Cities encourages local conversations about the global challenge of epidemic preparedness.

Germ City tells the very personal stories of New Yorkers’ experiences and their responses to the threat of contagious disease over time using historical objects, oral histories, and artwork. Artist Mariam Ghani’s film, inspired by Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, invites audiences at the main gallery’s entrance to engage with the themes of metaphor and disease. Ghani’s work leads into the main gallery, where the stories of the some of the city’s many microbes—flu, cholera, diphtheria, the common cold, cholera, smallpox, TB, polio, HIV, and others —are explored through scientific models, historical objects, and contemporary artworks.

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Orders for hospitalization for Mary Riley, August 29–31, 1854.

During the 1854 cholera epidemic, physicians visited the homes of the sick and issued orders for hospitalization, most hastily written on scrap paper. According to these notes, this patient, Mary Riley, delayed going to the hospital and died the following day.

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Letter from Mary Putnam Jacobi to Sophie Boaz, February 27, 1884.

The impact of diphtheria, another devastating disease of the 19th and early 20th century, is crystalized in the compelling story of Ernst Jacobi, the son of Abraham Jacobi, the father of pediatrics and himself a committed diphtheria researcher. An 1884 letter in the New York Academy of Medicine’s collections, written by Abraham Jacobi’s wife, the physician and activist Mary Putnam Jacobi, documents the devastating death of Ernst from diphtheria.

While this first section of the exhibition establishes just some of the contagious diseases that have hit New York over time, the remaining four sections of the exhibition probe the responses of the government, medical professionals, and ordinary citizens to the threat of epidemics. A common first response to contagion is to contain it. Visitors learn about New York’s man-made quarantine islands, Hoffman and Swinburne, and the exile of “Typhoid Mary” to nearby North Brother Island. These islands, now covered in overgrowth and closed to the public, are still visible from Manhattan’s shores.

Jordan Eagle’s Blood Mirror, a sculpture created with the blood of gay, bisexual, and transgender men to protest the U.S. government’s ban on their donating blood, provokes viewers to consider the potential consequences of linking particular identities with disease and thus isolating populations.

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Jordan Eagles, Blood Mirror, 2015–present Artwork on gallery floor. On loan from the artist.

The exhibition also explores the ways researchers, public officials, and ordinary New Yorkers have attempted to gather information in an effort to fight contagion. The Citizens’ Association of New York’s map of lower Manhattan illustrates the 1864 survey of New York households, conducted by physicians going door-to-door recording instances of typhoid, cholera, and other deadly diseases.

A copy of one survey, conducted by Dr. William Hunter, records the living conditions of a family of three recent Irish immigrants living on West 14th Street—all with typhoid fever. Science journalist Sonia Shah’s “Mapping Cholera” project illuminates the similarities between nineteenth-century New York’s vulnerability to cholera and more recent outbreaks in Haiti.

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Sonia Shah, Excerpt from Mapping Cholera: A Tale of Two Cities, 2015. Designed and built by Dan McCarey. Courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Postcard, Harlem Hospital. From the collection of Dr. Robert Matz.

Over time, New Yorkers have been reliant on medical research, medicine, and family and professional caregivers to provide respite from disease. A collection of postcards from the Academy Library donated by retired physician Dr. Robert Matz depict key institutions where epidemiological research, treatment, and care were given in an effort to save the lives of the city’s sickest. Many of these facilities—hospitals, sanitaria, and health resorts—have been torn down or transformed over time, becoming another invisible layer in the city’s architectural history.

New Yorkers sought care from old family recipes, as with Selma Yagoda’s recipe for chicken soup, and from patent medicines, cheap formulas widely available over the counter, which claimed to cure many ailments, including malaria and the Spanish flu.

 

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Diphtheria pamphlets

Germ City also engages with the ways cities create infrastructure and policies that support health. Public officials sometimes used creative delivery methods to communicate health information to wider audiences. In 1929, The Diphtheria Prevention Commission inundated the city’s subways and streets with placards and brochures in Spanish, Polish, Yiddish, and Greek, directing New Yorkers to get immunized for diphtheria.  David Lynch’s 1991 “Clean Up” video offers a dark and at times surreal look at the city’s rat problem, illustrating the importance of public hygiene. A number of private and public organizations mobilized to minimize disease outbreaks through outreach and education.

Following the main gallery, visitors are invited to engage hands-on with copies of collections materials in the “Reading Room,” in a range of formats (visual, audio, video). People can share their own family stories of disease through our public collecting initiative.

Germ City will be on view until April 28th, 2019. In coordination with the exhibition, the Academy is offering a slate of programming in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York. The first of these, “The World’s Deadliest Pandemic: A Century Later,” will take place at the Museum on September 27th. We hope to see you there (register here.)

The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men and the “Gospel of Rehabilitation”

Today we have a guest post written by Ms. Julie M. Powell, 2018 recipient of the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. Ms. Powell is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University, her dissertation topic explores the growth of wartime rehabilitation initiatives for disabled soldiers and the rhetoric that accompanied and facilitated this expansion. 

In May 1917, one month after the United States joined the First World War, the American Red Cross created the Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men to “build up re-educational facilities which might be of value to the crippled soldiers and sailors of the American forces.”[1] To this end, Director Douglas McMurtrie (1888–1944) collected approximately 3,500 separate books, pamphlets, reports, and articles from the European continent, North America, and the United Kingdom and its Dominions. He and his research staff pored over the documents, authoring reports, news articles, and lectures that were subsequently fed back into circulation both in the United States and abroad. A look at the collection and the work of the Institute provides a window into the development of rehabilitative care in the early twentieth century, demonstrating that transnational medical networks operated and expanded throughout the war and that the transmission of information and ideology often went hand in hand.

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The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men, 1918.

The proliferation of literature on rehabilitation (including surgical amputation, orthopaedics, prosthetic design, physical therapy, and vocational re-education) can be attributed both to a sense of urgency—20 million men were wounded in the war—and to the relative newness of the field. The first orthopaedic institute was created in Munich in 1832 and the next in Copenhagen in 1872 but these, and others that followed, focused exclusively on care for disabled children. The first significant moves toward the retraining of adults were taken up in the two decades before the war. In 1897, in Saint Petersburg, disabled men began to be trained in the manufacture of orthopaedic devices and in 1908, with the founding of a school in Charleroi, Belgium, the industrially maimed were taught bookbinding, shoe repair, basket making, and more. The first retraining school for invalided soldiers was created in December 1914 in Lyon, France, four months after the outbreak of hostilities. The school provided the inspiration for over 100 similar schools throughout France. The period 1915–1917 saw a proliferation of orthopaedic and re-education institutions throughout Europe and the western world. It was on these models that the Red Cross Institute was founded.

The first institution of its kind in the United States, the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men resided at 311 Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) in New York. Disabled men, either funded by the U.S. Army or attending through no-interest loans, trained in four trades: welding, mechanical drafting, printing, and the manufacture of artificial limbs. McMurtrie and his staff hosted meetings of disabled men—punctuated by cake and ice cream—wherein testimonials from the recently rehabilitated served as recruitment tools for the Institute.

But the broadest impact of the Institute came from its crusade to spread what McMurtrie referred to as the “gospel of rehabilitation”—an insistence on returning the disabled man to independence and self-sufficiency that he might eschew charity and compete fairly in the labor marketplace. Such notions were deeply rooted in classical liberalism, a foil to large-scale social welfare programs that would only emerge in the wake of the Second World War. In The Disabled Soldier, McMurtrie wrote plainly:

When the crippled soldier returns from the front, the government will provide for him, in addition to medical care, special training for self-support. But whether this will really put him back on his feet depends on what the public does to help or hinder, on whether the community morally backs up the national program to put the disabled soldier beyond the need of charity… In light of results already obtained abroad in the training of disabled soldiers, the complete elimination of the dependent cripple has become a constructive and inspiring possibility. Idleness is the great calamity. Your service to the crippled man, therefore, is to find for him a good busy job, and encourage him to tackle it. Demand of the cripple that he get back in the work of the world, and you will find him only too ready to do so.[2]

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A reproduction (right) of part of McMurtrie’s poster exhibit for the Institute featuring the liberal “gospel of rehabilitation”: self-sufficiency, competition, and independence from charity.

McMurtrie’s gospel sounded the same notes as the works of U.S. Allies across the pond, whose material he’d spent years collecting. In 1918, famed novelist, advocate of the war wounded, and editor for the rehabilitation journal Reveille, John Galsworthy warned against the perils of charity, of “drown[ing] the disabled in tea and lip gratitude” and thereby “unsteel[ing] his soul.” Rather, he wrote:

We shall so re-create and fortify…[the disabled soldier] that he shall leave hospital ready for a new career. Then we shall teach him how to tread the road of it, so that he fits again into the national life, becomes once more a workman with pride in his work, a stake in the country, and the consciousness that, handicapped though he be, he runs the race level with his fellows, and is by that so much the better man than they.[3]

Such rhetoric was of a piece with appeals from British Minister of Pensions, John Hodge, for the restoration of men to “industrial independence,” that they might “hold their own in the industrial race.”[4]

When McMurtrie invited the world’s newly-minted experts in rehabilitation to New York in 1919, they shared—as they had through pamphlets, pictures, and films—not just information but ideology. Discussions on war surgery and the organization of rehabilitation schemes unfolded side-by-side with talks on public education and encouragement of the disabled to train.

Such propaganda efforts were critical. According to McMurtrie: “The self-respect of self-support or the ignominy of dependence—which shall the future hold for our disabled soldiers?” The credit or blame, he held, would rest with a public that either demanded self-sufficiency or patronized its men with charity.

References:
[1] Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Organization, Work and Method of the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men (New York: The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men, 1918).
[2] Douglas McMurtrie, The Disabled Soldier (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919), 37.
[3] John Galsworthy, “Foreword,” The Inter-allied Conference on the After-Care of Disabled Men: Reports Presented to the Conference (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1918): 13–17. Reprinted in his book of essays Another Sheaf (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919).
[4] John Hodge, “The Training of Disabled Men: How We Are Restoring Them to Industrial Independence,” Windsor Magazine no. 281 (1918): 569–571.
[5] McMurtrie, The Disabled Soldier, 75.

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Summer Reading Suggestions – Part II

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

Our last post suggested foundation and fictional summer reading along the theme of contagion, especially the infectious influenza epidemic of 1918, to whet your appetite for our forthcoming exhibition Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis (opening September 14, 2018). Read on for more not-your-usual summer reading ideas.

Cities are concentrated hubs of peoples’ movements and interactions; for better or worse, the perfect location for populations and infections to collide. And, perhaps more than any other modern metropolis, the fabric of New York City has been shaped by responses to epidemic disease.

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Cities and Sickness

  • Hives of Sickness: Public Health and Epidemics in New York City, edited by David Rosner
  • Epidemic City: The Politics of Public Health in New York, James Colgrove
  • Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America, Melanie A. Kiechle
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson

Rosner’s Hives of Sickness is a great work to start with for looking at disease through the lens of urbanism; it’s a collection of nine essay the reader can dip and in out of. It’s fascinating to see how many of NYC’s public health initiatives were assigned to government agencies besides or along with the Dept. of Health, demonstrating how creating a health city is not an issue to be siloed. Follow that theme of health’s importance across civic agencies to James Colgrove’s Epidemic City, an analysis of the perspectives and initiatives of the people responsible for the city’s health since the 1960s.

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Another thing that cities mean is lots of people crowded together; which can smell bad. Bad smells and foul air (malaria, anyone?) were believed to be a cause of disease in the 19th century. Smell Detectives shows how hard it proved to find the sources of those dangerous odors and explores the larger tension between evolving scientific knowledge and people’s common, olfactory senses.

 

From across the pond in London is the story of the 1854 cholera epidemic; Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead’s use of interviews and mapping to identify the source as a contaminated water pump—not foul air—and with this the birth of the field of epidemiology and the power of visualizing data. The Ghost Map is a riveting, multidisciplinary tale.

 

Don’t be so Literal:

  • Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, Susan Sontag
  • In Sickness and in Health: Disease as Metaphor in Art and Popular Wisdom, by Laurinda S. Dixon
  • Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, Priscilla Wald
  • Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe

Disease is more than a clinical fact. It’s a concept. Trends go viral. Something cool is sick. There are cancers in the body politic. A cancer survivor herself, author Susan Sontag challenges victim-blaming in her seminal and intense work Illness as Metaphor and its follow-up AIDS and its Metaphors. In Sickness and in Health is a good counterpart, its concentration being on figurative illness through the visual arts and imagery. Many people with AIDs belonged to stigmatized minorities which led to society to link sickness to ‘badness,’ and the criminalizing of illness is not specific to AIDS alone as Trevor Hoppe’s Punishing Disease reveals. In Contagious, Priscilla Wald uses history, journalism, literary and cinematic depictions of disease to describe the “outbreak narrative,” and how getting stuck in this particular storyline and mode of thinking might limit our approach to the next big pandemic.

Bonus book

The Plague, Albert Camus

It’s on every other high school required reading list for a reason; Camus’ masterfully written tale of the town of Oran beset by plague is about death by disease but it’s also a powerful allegory about how we choose to live.

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Summer Reading Suggestions – Part I

“There is a narrative power to epidemics … these events typically unfold dramatically and contain elements of discovery, reaction, suspense, conflict, illness, perhaps death, and one hopes, resolution.” -Howard Markel, When Germs Travel

 

This September we open an exhibition with our partners (and next door neighbor) The Museum of the City of New York; Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the influenza pandemic of 1918 which infected an estimated quarter of the world’s population and caused the death of more people than the First World War.

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Prompted by this centenary, the exhibition and its related programs are the New York City site of the exploration of germs living in people the way people live in cities, along with sister sites in Hong Kong and Geneva. This international collaboration, Contagious Cities, was developed by the Wellcome Trust. Inspired by the Reading Room at the Wellcome Trust’s home in London, our exhibition will include a reading room of books and articles visitors can read.

If you just can’t wait till September to dig deeper into tales of cities’ roles in causing and controlling disease or the stories of human ingenuity, fear, and compassion in the face of sickness; pick among these titles for not-your-usual summer reading. Please bear in mind titles suggested below may not be in the exhibition’s reading room, but that’s where your local library steps in: find yours here.

Hear them Here: Authors Speaking at our Programs

  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry
  • Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the Immigrant Menace, Alan M. Kraut
  • Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation, Samuel Kelton Roberts
  • After Silence: A History of AIDS Through its Images, Avram Finkelstein
  • Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Sonia Shah

Many people aren’t aware of the 1918 influenza pandemic or how widespread and deadly it was in New York, the United States, and globally; so John Barry’s account of the pandemic’s history in The Great Influenza and connecting it to current day challenges like avian flu is a good foundation read. Readers can attend on Sept. 27th [coming soon to our events page] to hear Barry in panel discussion on the legacy of the 1918 flu and how surviving future pandemics may be as much a political issue as a medical one. Moderating that conversation will be Alan Kraut, author of Silent Travelers, a look at the medicalized prejudice that so often targets immigrants.

Infectious Fear Cover_RobertsGerms themselves may be blind when it comes to who infect; but outbreaks don’t strike populations with equity. We tackle the fraught intersection of disease and disparity in a discussion on Nov. 28th  [coming soon to our events page] and give the thumbs-up to our moderator Professor Samuel Roberts’ thought-provoking book Infectious Fear. For a closer look at the lived experiences of disease and how those infected are remembered or all too often forgotten join us in February 2019  [coming soon to our events page] for Remembering the Dead; you’ll have plenty of time to check out panelist Avram Finkelstein’s unflinching look at the AIDS crisis and the responses of artist-activists; After Silence. We face our future with infectious diseases in a discussion in April 2019 lead by journalist Sonia Shah. She weaves an amazing story with history, reportage and personal narrative in Pandemic: Tracking Contagions about how we are making predictions about the next major pandemic.

If you’d like a nonfiction read for a younger audience pick up Jim Murphy’s An American Plague. This is a dramatic retelling of the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 Philadelphia, a survival challenge to the city’s inhabitants as well as the young nation itself with a good spotlight on the incredible role of the Free African Society in caring for the sick. An American Plague pairs nicely with Laurie Halse Anderson’s fictional Fever 1793, also intended for the middle-school reader but from the point of view of its 15-year old heroine Mattie.

Which brings us to works of fiction more generally …

Fiction: Disease as a way to Explore the Body and Self; the Individual and Society

  • Fever: A Novel, Mary Beth Keane
  • The Last Man, Mary Shelley
  • Blue Pills a Postive Love Story, Frederik Peeters
  • The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton

For a change of pace from incisive facts and socio-scientific trends, delve into the highly personal story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant to the United States better known as ‘Typhoid Mary,’ in Mary Beth Keane’s Fever. From Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame, there’s an apocalyptic story of humankind brought face to face with its own destruction due to plague in The Last Man complete with thinly veiled versions of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and herself. Most of the English Romantics were deceased by the time Shelley wrote this, so an undercurrent of eulogizing comes through in her tone as she explores the failure of imagination to save society.

Translated from the French by Anjali Singh is Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel, Blue Pills – A Positive Love Story, the story of a man’s relationship with his girlfriend and her son who are both HIV+. The black and white artwork allows for an arresting depiction of what is literally happening to the protagonist and simultaneously what he is perceiving and coping with in the moment.

You didn’t think there wouldn’t be a Michael Crichton, did you? The Andromeda Strain is the kick-off novel of bio-tech thrillers with its deadly microbe brought back from space on a military satellite.

Bonus book:

Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection, Berton Roueché

One of the best writers from The New Yorker, Roueché’s short stories are superbly written vignettes of medical mystery solving.

Met by Accident: A Beaten Book

Today’s guest post is written by Julia Miller, a book conservator who studies, writes, lectures, and instructs about historical binding structures. In collaboration with the Guild of Bookworkers New York Chapter, Ms. Miller will speak at The New York Academy of Medicine on June 27th at 6pm, “Meeting by Accident,” about types of bookbinding and delve into the what, why, and how questions concerning historical bindings. 

When I wrote my second book Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, I drew on interesting bookbindings encountered in recent years. I wish my book had been published a bit later than it was, just so I could include the book I describe to you here.

Fig. 1

Spine, upper cover, and lower text edge of the Guthrie book. All photographs courtesy of Randel Stegmeyer.

Not long after Meeting by Accident was published, I found a book that immediately intrigued me because it carried an interesting, and to me, unusual direction to the binder: “The Binder is desired to beat the Book before he places the Maps.” It appears on page 10 following the Preface in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World. (The Thirteenth Edition, Corrected. London, Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry; and G.G.J. and J. Robinson, in Pater-noster Row. 1792.)[1]. Beating book sections to flatten them prior to sewing was a common binding practice at one time but fell out of use and out of our collective memory; the mention of this old practice in the binders’ direction reminds us. The flatness of the text leaves (and the near-absence of “bite” to the printed text) indicates the binder of this volume followed the direction to beat the book.

Fig. 4

Detail director to binder in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World.

 

The book measures 22 H x 13.8 W x 8 T in centimeters. It is worn, with losses to the brown sheepskin cover, and much repaired. The detached boards were oversewn to reattach them to the text block, and the spine rebacked with a strip of tawed skin. There is evidence of sewing in two- or three-on style [for a primer on three-on sewing click here] and later oversewing to secure loosened sections. The text block shows heavy use and damage: finger dirt, stains, and damaged edges.

Why is this book of reference interesting to the history of hand bookbinding? In 2013, conservator and bookbinder Jeffrey S. Peachey published his ground-breaking examination of beating books, “Beating, Rolling, and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Volume I of Suave Mechanicals – Essays on the History of Bookbinding.[2] His essay is an exercise in detection and is fascinating to read. Jeff discusses the history, tools, and methods of flattening book leaves, noting that it is sometimes impossible to tell if sections of a given book were beaten in the traditional way, or if sections were rolled or pressed instead. Guthrie’s book, at least the thirteenth edition, carries the type of evidence we need, in the wording of the direction to the binder, to establish that this is probably a beaten book. Peachey mentioned in a recent email that he has seen similar directions in other 17th and 18th century books.

Fig. 5

Fore edge of Guthrie book.

A comparison study of other copies from this thirteenth edition of Guthrie, and earlier/later editions, looking for the same binders’ direction and evidence of beating, plus searching out other imprints carrying similar directions to the binder, would be a valuable and interesting research project; and I hope one of you reading this post will undertake it!

References
[1] The Academy Library has the 1794 edition.
[2] Ed. Julia Miller. 317-382. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2013.

 

Saving the Race from Extinction: African Americans and National Negro Health Week

Today’s guest post is written by Paul Braff, a PhD candidate in American History at Temple University whose research focuses on African American history and public health during the twentieth century. On Tuesday, March 6, Paul will give The Iago Galdston Lecture: “Who Needs a Doctor?: The Challenge of National Negro Health Week to the Medical Establishment.” Click HERE to register for this event.

In 1896, Frederick Hoffman, a statistician for the Prudential Insurance Company of America, released his assessment of African American health. His Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro recommended against insuring the race and gave an emphatic confirmation of what Charles Darwin and other scientists and doctors had asserted for years: African Americans were going extinct.[1] Within the context of the burgeoning professionalization of the medical field, such a conclusion had the potential to omit African Americans from medical care, especially when combined with the preconceived racial differences of the time.

Joke

A common joke in the early twentieth century.[2]

For Booker T. Washington, this negative view of the future of his race and the idea that blacks could not understand basic health or improve their situation had the potential to undermine all attempts at racial uplift. As he put it, “Without health and until we reduce the high death-rate [of African Americans] it will be impossible for us to have permanent success in business, in property getting, in acquiring education, to show other evidences of progress.”[3] For Washington, health was the building block upon which everything, political rights, economic self-sufficiency, even citizenship, rested.

To fight this white perception of African American health, in 1915 Washington launched a public health campaign, “National Negro Health Week” (NNHW). The Week focused on both public and private displays of health, emphasizing hygiene as well as painting and whitewashing, the latter overt actions to demonstrate that African Americans could achieve “proper,” or white, standards of cleanliness and connect being clean with health improvement. Thus, the Week incorporated Washington’s racial uplift philosophy as NNHW extolled health and cleanliness values to blacks that aligned with those of whites in the hope of decreasing racial differences. This non-clinical definition of health, in which practicing proper hygiene and painting, not physician overseen checkups and vaccinations, made one healthy, allowed African Americans to understand their own health and empowered them to become leaders in their communities. The straightforward and inexpensive activities the Week suggested were easy to duplicate and rally the community behind. The connections made in organizing a Week could then be used for more extensive African American social and political activities. Although he died later that year, the campaign lived on for another 35 years and became part of Washington’s legacy.

Washington

“National Negro Health Week: 17th Annual Observance, Sunday, April 5, to Sunday, April 12, 1931,” USPHS, Washington, D.C., 1931, cover, Folder 2, Box 5, “National Negro Health Week Collection,” Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, AL.

NNHW’s popularity attracted the interest of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), and when the Great Depression made the Week difficult to finance, the USPHS took it over in 1932. With the vast resources of the USPHS behind it, the Week grew into a massive campaign that had millions of participants in thousands of communities participate each year.

Chart

Susan L. Smith, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890-1950 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 70.

However, such participation came with a price as the USPHS worked to redefine the Week’s definition of health. Under the USPHS, physicians were the ultimate arbiters of health and the focus changed from cleanups and whitewashing to vaccination and getting regular checkups from doctors and dentists. With the white medical establishment more centrally enthroned in the Week and the nascent Civil Rights Movement starting to take shape, African Americans called for an end to a Week based upon race.

National Negro Health Week illuminates the important role non-experts can play in defining personal health, and how those definitions can become internalized. Exploring the role of non-experts allows historians to examine the ways in which social constructions of health can be challenged, and the study of NNHW better positions scholars and public health officials to understand how race and health intersect today.

References:
[1] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London, UK: John Murray, 1871). Reprint. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2004, 163; Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1896), 35; George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1971), 236-237, 252-258.
[2] “An Important Work,” April 12, 1926, in “The Tuskegee Health Collection, 1926,” 853, Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, AL (TA). See also “Negro Health Week Conference,” November 1, 1926, 1, Box 1 Folder 2, “National Negro Health Week Collection,” TA and Edwin R. Embree, “Negro Illness and the Nation’s Health,” Crisis, March 1929, 84, 97.
[3] Booker T. Washington, Gallery Proof, January 15, 1915, 827, “National Negro Health Week,” Reel 713, Booker T. Washington Collection, TA.

Embroidering Medicine, Re-imagining Embroidery

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence researching the history of sutures and ligatures.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This past September, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Embroidering Medicine,” which explored the relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender.

Historically, needlework has been used to enforce stereotypes of women as docile, obedient, and incapable of creative or original thought.  Embroidery as a skill and a decorative medium was a required part of a woman’s education for centuries.  Across different periods of time, embroidery techniques (stump work, black work, etc.) and themes (religious, botany, etc.) in vogue provided only very narrow focus for creative outlets for women.  From the 16th century onwards, embroidery publications encouraged the use of pre-drawn patterns.  Images generally included geometric stitch motifs, flowers, plants, and animals. Many women, including Mary Queen of Scots translated images from books such as the Icones Animalium (1560) and La Nature et Diversité des Poissoins (1555).[1]

Image1

Workshop participants discuss their work.

The cultural pressure to recreate existing patterns and images has been the basis of the argument that a craft such as embroidery is inherently unoriginal. In the 16th century and later, many people considered women incapable of original creative thought, proved by the adherence of women to unimaginative media such as embroidery.

As the Academy’s Artist-in-Residence, I wanted to facilitate an embroidery workshop that connected the histories of women, medicine, and embroidery. In my own work I have done this by looking at the broad scope of health and medical literature available at the Academy Library, exploring feminist histories of medicine and of needlework, and using drawing and needlework to identify and describe intersections of medical and textile arts. In the workshop I encouraged participants to re-imagine the tradition of embroidery pattern translation by using historical medical imagery mostly created by male artists.

Image2

Dental anatomy after an image by John Hunter by Stephanie Russell.

The workshop was a great way to explore history on one’s own terms. Cultural forces limiting women’s economic and artistic independence have been at work for centuries in Europe and the United States. The establishment and regulation of craft and medical guilds in Medieval Europe began the limitation of women from the professional practices of medicine and needlework.[2] While working with materials from the historical collection, the status of women as medical professionals during different periods was a topic of conversation as we stitched our embroidery.

Image3

An embroidery in progress by Abby Tannenbaum, stitched from an image in the Hortus Sanitatis.

Our group (coincidentally all women) explored the library images, learned about the history of medicine, examined books about home economics and sciences, found images to work with that were interesting or personally relevant, explored historical descriptions of medical needlework (i.e. suturing the body), and practiced embroidery stitches. The products of this workshop embody the stitcher’s process and creative experimentation combining the history of medicine with the histories of feminism and the decorative art of embroidery.

Image4

Kriota Willberg (third from left) and embroidery participants in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

There is a lot of creativity that can go in to re-imagining a pre-existing image. In addition to working with line, filling, and color, embroidery can add texture and depth through its use of various types of threads and yarns. The embroiderer studies the image she is recreating. Is it educational? Entertaining? Are certain anatomical structures or pathological states emphasized? The embroiderer interprets the original artist’s intentions, determines her own interests in the image, and re-works the image using color, texture, stitch variety, and fabric, to create a new work. To practice basic stitches, an embroiderer might choose to follow an original pattern closely or experiment and make “mistakes,” as one might when drawing in a sketchbook.

Image5

Anatomized genitalia from an anatomy book by Adriaan van de Spiegel (aka Spiegalius) and Giulio Cesare Casseri (aka Casserius) published in the 17th century. Stitched by Susan Shaw.

Embroidery is becoming a popular medium again and still provokes associations with hominess and winsome imagery. I was delighted to see workshop embroiderers re-imaging pictures of dental anatomy and dissected genitalia into images that are simultaneously comforting and disturbing. The embroiderers in this workshop are taking needlework in new and exciting directions!

Endnotes:
[1] Swain, Margaret. The Needlework or Mary Queen of Scots. New York, London: Man Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc., 1973.
[2] I recommend reading The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker and Women and the Practice of Medical Care in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800 by Leigh Ann Whaley. Reading these books simultaneously has been a revelatory experience!

Winter/Spring 2018 Upcoming Events

As 2017 winds down, we turn our attention to 2018 and the rich programming we have in store this winter and spring. As always, we look forward to seeing you at many of our events as we explore the cultural, historical, and political context of health and medicine.

chin-jou-2017.jpgWe kick off our winter/spring programming on January 24 with “The Obesity Epidemic and Fast Food Marketing to African Americans” with speaker, Chin Jou. This sure-to-be-fascinating talk will look at how fast food companies have aggressively marketed to African Americans since the early 1970s.

Mike Kelly

How can a book-historical approach to the history of race in America help us to navigate the fraught landscape of race in the early 21st century? Join us on January 27 for “The Moon, Indian Medicine, and Scientific Racism” with speaker Michael Kelly, as he examines how nineteenth-century publications can help us explore the bibliography of race in America.

james-delbourgo-headshot.jpgLondon’s British Museum was the first free national public museum in the world. How did it come into being? Find out on January 31 when our speaker, James Delbourgo, discusses “The Origins of Public Museums: Hans Sloane’s Collections and the Creation of the British Museum.” The little-known life of the British Museum founder, Sir Hans Sloane, provides a new story about the beginnings of public museums through their origins in imperialism and slavery.

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February 5-9 is Color Our Collections Week! Begun by the Academy Library in 2016, Color Our Collections Week brings you free coloring sheets based on materials in our Library as well as other cultural institutions from around the world. Users are invited to download and print the coloring sheets via the website www.colorourcollections.org and share their filled-in images with hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

Nina Berman headshotJoin author and documentary photographer, Nina Berman, on February 21 for Navigating Care for the Most Vulnerable. Berman will take us through the healthcare system’s cracks through the photographic story of one woman’s travails with drug abuse, homelessness, and mental illness for thirty years, revealing an intimate encounter with health care in the U.K. and the U.S.

paul-braff-e1512763884522.jpgDuring the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many white people believed that African Americans were inherently ill. To challenge this, Booker T. Washington launched a public health campaign in 1915: National Negro Health Week. On March 6, speaker Paul Braff will give the Iago Galdston Lecture on “Who Needs a Doctor?: The Challenge of National Negro Health Week to the Medical Establishment,” which will examine the changes in, and challenges to, medical authority and public health in African American communities the Week caused.

Daniel Margocsy headshotIn the past five hundred years, copies of Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica travelled across the globe, and readers studied, annotated and critiqued its contents in different ways from its publication in 1543 to 2017. On April 24, Daniel Margócsy will give the Annual Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture, “Reading Vesalius Across the Ages,” which will discuss the book’s complex reception history, show how physicians, artists, theologians and collectors filled its pages with copious annotations, and offer an interpretation of how this atlas of anatomy became one of the most coveted rare books for 21st-century collectors.     

Randi Esptein headshotFinally, on June 28, Academy Fellow and author Randi Hutter Epstein will give the talk AROUSED: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About EverythingHormones have a fascinating history replete with medical sleuths, desperate patients, and swindlers. Dr. Epstein will separate the hype from the hope in hormonal discoveries and mishaps, past and present.

Check back here for special guest posts by some of our speakers in the coming months!