“The Politics of Infrastructure” Class Review

By Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

As part of the ongoing collaboration between the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (BISR) and The New York Academy of Medicine Library, I was able to spend the beginning of summer contemplating how material and immaterial infrastructures affect peoples’ daily lives.

Throughout the BISR course titled “The Politics of Infrastructure,” taught by one of my favorite professors, Danya Glabau, we covered everything from why park benches are a certain length (so that people don’t sleep on them), to the United States’ unique economy of technological obsolescence. We took some deep dives into theoretical texts, such as Michelle Murphy’s Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty and Bruno Latour’s Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. We were also encouraged to apply what we read to our daily lives. During my morning commutes, I suddenly found myself wondering if an umbrella or a subway car were inherently political objects (and what this might mean for their construction and use).

As always, there were beautiful treasures from the Academy Library that we were able to view during class, thanks to our Rare Books and Manuscripts Curator Anne Garner’s expansive knowledge of our holdings. One item she found for the class that was particularly striking was Stephen Smith’s The City That Was (1911).[1] We used this item as a complement to our unit titled “Infrastructure and Public Health,” where we read critical texts such as Paul Farmer’s “An Anthropology of Structural Violence” and Manjari Mahajan’s “Designing Epidemics: Models, Policy-Making, and Global Foreknowledge in India’s AIDS Epidemic.”

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Image from Smith’s The City That Was (1911) showing the “Region of Bone-Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances.”

Smith was a New Yorker who many now regard as the father of public health. He founded the American Public Health Association and was the first to attribute the spread of typhus and cholera to environmental conditions around New York City.[2] Without him, New York would likely not have advanced into the public health-conscious city it is today (at least not as quickly). In The City That Was, Smith outlines through detailed illustrations various areas of the city that were public health concerns. I hate to imagine what Nolita’s trendy residents would think of their apartments if they knew they were once next to noxious hide-curing and fat-gathering houses.

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Image from Smith’s The City That Was (1911) showing the “Region of Hide-Curing, Fat-Gathering, Fat and Soap Boiling, and Slaughter-Pens, Behind the Bowery Shopping Houses.”

While examining physical infrastructures, past and present, provided us with the tools to critique New York’s metropolitan landscape responsibly, we also learned about more cerebral types of infrastructure. One author whose work particularly struck me was Susan Leigh Star. In her article titled “Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions,” she examines the power of living in between worlds, and challenges her readers to question the idea of standardization. Of the latter, she brings attention to stoplights, writing: “The initial choice of red as a colour of traffic lights that means, ‘stop’, for example, is now a widespread convention that would be functionally impossible to change, yet it was initially arbitrary.” And it’s true — who decided that red meant stop? Why does red mean stop everywhere now, from stop signs to walk signals?

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Diagram showing Star’s theory of the dimensions of power, from “Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions,” 1991.

For me, the power of Star’s scholarship really became solidified throughout her discussion of marginality, though. She writes:

“We are at once heterogeneous, split apart, multiple — and through living in multiple worlds without delegation, we have experience of a self unified only through action, work and the patchwork of collection biography . . . That is, in the case of Pasteur or any executive, much of the work is attributed back to the central figure, erasing the work of secretaries, wives, laboratory technicians, and all sorts of associates. When this invisible work . . . is recovered, a very different network is discovered as well . . . All of these ways of gaining access imply listening, rather than talking on behalf of. This often means refusing translation — resting uncomfortably but content with that which is wild to us.”[3]

As someone who works in the intersection of medicine and the social sciences, the ideas in the above quote seem especially relevant. Biological scientists hate lingering in the unknown, while social scientists get tenure by writing about it. The idea of a library whose collections reflect the chameleonic history of medicine likely exists in a space much like Star’s “multiple worlds.” And, similar to those lab technicians whose names you never read about when a team of scientists win the Nobel Prize, libraries function largely on invisible labor. Thanks to Star, I am getting more comfortable with my own brand of marginality, too.

Glabau lead us expertly down these paths and many more during my time as a BISR student in “The Politics of Infrastructure.” We are currently hosting another one of her classes (“Science, Race, and Colonialism“), so stay tuned for more synopses from the field.

References:
[1] Smith S, The City That Was. New York, NY: F. Allaben; 1911.
[2] A Short Narrative of Dr. Stephen Smith. Medph.org. Published 2016. Accessed July 10, 2017.
[3] Star S. Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions. The Sociological Review. 1991; 38(S1):26-55, p29-30.

College Student Reflects on Recent Academy Lecture

Today’s guest post is by Eliana Lanfranco, who is a rising sophomore studying at Georgetown University. She is majoring in medical anthropology and hopes to pursue a career in medicine in the future with the aim of returning to her home country to open a clinic. Eliana attended the Academy lecture with Project Rousseau, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to empower youth in communities with the greatest need to reach their full potential and pursue higher education. Project Rousseau takes a holistic approach to students’ educational problems delivering a variety of programs and strongly believes in the importance of exposing students to as many new experiences as possible, such as attending lectures at the New York Academy of Medicine!

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Eliana Lanfranco (center) with Project Rousseau Founder and President, Andrew Heinrich, and two younger Project Rousseau students.

On May 11, I attended “Facades and Fashions in Medical Architecture” at the New York Academy of Medicine.  This was my first time attending a lecture outside of my college classes, and I left with a different perspective on what lectures have to offer. The lecture did not contain slides filled with information I was required to know for a course, but rather an interactive, engaging talk filled with information I wanted to know. Through it, I learned about a new side of the history of medicine that I had never thought about before.

The lecture began with an overview of dispensaries, which were used primarily by the lower income groups in NYC (the wealthy had their own private doctors) in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of the volunteers in these dispensaries were doctors from affluent backgrounds who had recently graduated and wanted to gain clinical experience to become established doctors. Later, when hospitals began to serve both the poor and rich, recent graduates preferred the hospitals over the dispensaries, since the former had the latest equipment, such as x-rays and anesthesia, which the doctors could learn about and use.  It is interesting to see how this trend has, to some extent, remained among medical students today, and which medical institutions attract which students. Today, it may be easier to find a volunteer spot in community clinics than in hospitals, and medical students can oftentimes be more exposed to the health issues that affect certain communities who use these facilities.

The lecture also highlighted the way in which hospitals were built to be relatable to the patients and how their architecture reflected medical beliefs at the time. Older hospitals were built with long, narrow wings, as it was believed that the flow of air and light eliminated germs. Their architecture also tried to be welcoming and non-imposing to people walking past them; for example, mental health institutes were built to have a countryside feeling instead of looking like enclosed plots of land. Later, many of the hospitals built during the New Deal time period also featured murals painted by local artists in their waiting rooms. These murals were sometimes twofold, as they featured “controlled medicine” or modern medicine, and “uncontrolled medicine” or folk forms of healing. They portrayed historical figures in medicine, such as Louis Pasteur, and minorities in the field of medicine. As a patient, I would have been thankful for these murals since they offer some distraction from the endless wait in the waiting room.

In contrast, modern hospitals have been built in big clusters, along with skyscrapers. Their rectangular shape makes them reliant on mechanical ventilation, and their towering height makes them overpowering to people walking by. However, many try to maintain their air of welcome by making the entrances wide to show that it is not an institution for a select few. I think that these small details are very important because even though the majority of patients may not consciously think about the architecture they’re entering, these features greatly affect how patients, especially those who are not used to having structured medical systems in their home countries, feel about entering the hospital. I lived in a rural part of the Dominican Republic and the tallest hospital I saw growing up was four floors high. When I moved to New York City, I was surprised at the height of the hospitals and, although I am no longer a child, I am often intimidated by the buildings. It is good to see that some hospitals have incorporated details into their architecture to retain the air of welcome for patients, although as I, and many others, still quiver as we enter hospitals, I wonder how successful this approach has truly been!

Prior to this lecture, I was unaware that so many buildings I walked by every day, and that just looked like apartments with no historical importance, were actually hospitals and medical institutions.  Although older medical institutions can give us an insight into older medical beliefs and practices when carefully inspected  and can help us shape future medical practices, many of the older medical institutions have survived only through repurposing to other uses, such as apartments or firehouses; few have maintained their original purpose. It would be great to see the older hospitals that have survived, continue their original purpose or become museums so that their medical history can be saved, as has been the case with some buildings in nearby Philadelphia and Boston. As a pre-med student, the thought of attending an architecture lecture was, at first glance a little strange, but now I realize how related medicine and architecture are. A doctor’s primary aim is to treat all those in need, but without the right architectural design many patients may be hesitant to enter towering, intimidating hospitals!

Summer & Fall 2017 Catalog of Events

By Emily Miranker, Events and Projects Manager

Welcome to The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Summer & Fall 2017 cultural programming.

For the third year running, we are partnering with our neighbor The Museum of the City of New York for a three-part series: “Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle.” Marking the centennial of New York State suffrage law, Century of Struggle is a free, three-part talk series that examines key battles over women’s ability to control their bodies, health choices, and fertility. The series reflects the Academy’s long history of involvement with improving maternal and infant mortality, and complements the forthcoming exhibition at MCNY Beyond Suffrage: 100 Years of Women and Politics in New York.

“Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle” speakers Randi Epstein, Faye Wattleton, and Jennifer Nelson.

Next in our special series, “Legacies of War: Medical Innovations and Impacts”—how the experience of war prompts medical innovation—we welcome Professor Beth Linker on September 28 to speak on World War One and veteran care, and Professor John Kinder on October 17 to explore the history of American war through the bodies of five veterans.

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Cover of Pictorial Review (Feb 1919).

Starting in mid-September, Kriota Willberg will lead an Embroidering Medicine Workshop. This workshop is the culmination of a six-month artist residency –the first ever such at the Academy Library- dedicated to the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. The workshop explores the relationship between medicine, needlework and gender. Willberg focuses on the areas of the collection invoking the ideals of femininity and domesticity, as well as needlework (in the form of ligatures, sutures, and stitching of the body.)

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John Bell, The Principles of Surgery (1801).

Our collaboration with Atlas Obscura continues this year with topics like Anatomical Illustrations, Astronomy and Astrology, Cookery, and Women’s Medicine. The intimate sessions in our beautiful Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Room offer a chance to be enlightened by early alchemists, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and midwives. You’ll leave with the wisdom that they penned, including the ancient secrets of how to turn metal into gold, what fruit to eat to delay labor, and how the Zodiac Man guided medical practices.

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Joannes de Ketham, Fasciculo de Medicina (1522).

Later in the fall, socio-medical scientist Ijeoma Kola of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health presents “Unable to Breathe” on November 14. As asthma hospitalization rates skyrocketed, researchers shifted their focus from psychosomatic explanations to the toxicity of black urban locales. This talk explores how emerging asthma research in the 1950s and 1960s bolstered broader African American struggles for equity.

Download the Summer/Fall Catalog for more details. To register, click the names of events in the catalog, or visit www.NYAM.org/events. You can keep up to date on our events and activities by following us on social media, @nyamhistory.

We look forward to seeing you throughout the second half of this year.

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Who Practices “Visualizing Anatomy”?

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This May, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy,” which utilized live models as well as anatomical illustrations from the New York Academy of Medicine’s library. You can read more about Kriota’s work HERE.

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The class gets oriented before drawing practice.

The Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy workshop was held at the Academy Tuesday evenings in June.  Once again I was impressed by the participants willingness to practice looking underneath our models’ skin to draw the deep anatomical structures that give our bodies form.

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Participants draw using their preferred medium, in this case, paper or an iPad.

Who benefits from this kind of drawing practice? Practically everyone. Trained artists sharpen their skills, and those new to art and drawing learn fundamental principles of anatomy that lay the foundation for drawing the human figure.

Debbie Rabina, who is new to art, took the workshop last year.  Since then she has kept a regular drawing practice and she occasionally incorporates anatomy into her work.

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Debbie Rabina’s drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

Ellen Zaraoff is a photographer who has just started drawing. Until taking the classes this year she had been focusing on drawing portraits in charcoal.  She took the workshop to get an introduction to anatomy, structure, and proportion.

Sarah Wukoson has a BA in art, and works in medical research. She took the workshop this year because she’s interested in the intersection of art and medicine as well as “the interplay of different modes of understanding the body.”

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Sarah Wukoson’s 2017 in-class sketches and exercises.

Jim Doolley is a “life-long art lover who decided a couple years ago to take a stab at producing, not just consuming.” His focus is drawing and painting. He took this class to improve his draftsmanship.

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Jim Dooley’s 2017 homework.

Susan Shaw is an artist.  She says, “I took the class (last year) because I found I was thinking 2 dimensionally when I was drawing and the figures seemed to have no life… I now think about how the body functions when I draw and it makes gesture and weighting much easier.”

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Susan Shaw’s figure drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

The variety of participants: artists, illustrators, cartoonists and enthusiastic beginners – all interested in anatomy and the Library’s historical collection make this workshop one of my favorites to teach.

This September 14-October 5, Kriota is offering an “Embroidering Medicine Workshop,” which will take place at the Academy.  This four-week workshop explores The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s historical collections, examining relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender. Learn more and register HERE.

 

The Original ‘App’: Paper Volvelles

By Emily Miranker, Events and Project Manager

Nowadays, “there’s an app for that” for nearly any question or need you might possibly have –not to mention needs you didn’t even know you had. What you might not realize is that apps –in the sense of a handheld device for manipulating data- are hundreds of years old.[1]

Meet the ancestor of your smartphone apps: the volvelle, sometimes called a wheel chart. It’s a (brilliantly) simple paper construction of moving parts; layers of rotating discs with information on them. Externalized, artificial data memory before the printing press, steam power, photography, electricity, ether anesthesia, radar, cars, the internet and wifi. Wow.

Gadgets for working with data are even older than paper volvelles. Think of the astrolabe, which had dials that measured the angle of the sun, allowing you to determine accurate time. Useful as an astrolabe was, it was very fine metalwork and, therefore, expensive. Paper devices were a more economical idea.

Two views of an astronomical volvelle from Federici Chrisogno’s De modo collegiandi pronosticandi et curandi febres (1528). Chrisogno was among the first to posit that the cause of tides was connected to the moon and the sun.[2] Note among the exquisite details the tiny human faces on the sun and moon orbs (in the edges of the top two discs) and the delicate astrological symbols (around the outer disc’s rim).

Like many scientific innovations, volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works.[3] One of the earliest extant volvelles was created by Ramon Llull from Majorca (modern day Spain) in his Ars Magna published in 1305. His volvelle, “The Night Sphere,” could be used to calculate the time at night by aligning the device with the pole star –exact times being important to him for knowing the most auspicious times to administer medicine.[4] Incidentally, the European adoption of this useful device is reflected in the name we have for it, volvelle, from the Latin volvere meaning “to turn.” The scope of information that volvelles depict is huge. Besides astronomy, subjects include: verb conjugations, color wheels, metric conversions, fortune-telling, first-aid techniques, and local seasonal foods (such as in the modern example below).

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The Local Foods Wheel, New York Metro Area; 2015.

Some volvelle constructions can get very elaborate in form, like this unusual and entertaining piece in our collection, The Bodyscope (1948), by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett. It is a color-lithographed, interactive anatomical chart designed for the educated lay public. When opened, the chart displays a male figure on the left and a female figure on the right, surrounded by skeletons and muscle men. Each of the large figures houses a volvelle that, when rotated, displays five different views of the internal organs. Additional cut-outs on the front and back of the chart also change as the volvelles move to display additional views of various body parts and systems.

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The Bodyscope (1948) by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett.

Inspired by volvelles in our collections, we’ve gotten creative for the upcoming Museum Mile Festival, Tuesday June 13 from 6-9pm along Fifth Avenue. It’s a delightful cultural block party; seven museums are open for free, and there are special crafts and performances. An evening you won’t want to miss! Especially since we’ve created a DIY volvelle for festival goers to make for themselves.

Our volvelle feature male and female bodies created by the highly influential Dutch physician and anatomist, Andreas Vesalius, for De Humani Corpis Fabrica (1543). The Fabrica was groundbreaking not only for its artistry, but for its promotion of learning about human anatomy through dissection. Understanding of the human body had been dominated in the West since the third century by the work of the Greek anatomist Galen, who performed animal dissection. Vesalius’ work on cadavers revealed anatomical errors in Galen’s work and pushed medical knowledge forward.

Our DIY volvelles let you deepen your own anatomical knowledge by adding in human organs (from the well-known Gray’s Anatomy) and anatomy facts of your choice. See you at the Festival!

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks to Anne Garner for information on The Bodyscope, and the Library extends our gratitude to Harlem Artist & Craftsman for the generous donation of supplies for the Festival.

References:
[1] Adam Rothstein. The Original Mobile App was Made of Paper. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/the-earliest-mobile-apps.
[2] Federico Bonelli, Lucio Russo. The Origin of Modern Astronomical Theories of Tides: Chrisogno, de Dominis and Their Sources. The British Journal for the History of Science. 1996; 29 (4): 385-401.
[3] David Kahn. On the Origin of Polyalphabetic Substitution. Isis. 1980, 71 (1): 122-127.
[4] Rheagan Martin. Decoding the Medieval volvelle. Retrieved from http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/decoding-the-medieval-volvelle/. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara

Today’s guest post is written by Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, 2016). On Monday, June 5, Lohman will give her talk, “The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Ms. Amelia Simmons gave America its first cookbook in 1796; within her pamphlet filled with sweet and savory recipes, she makes this note about garlic: “Garlickes, tho’ used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.” In her curt dismissal, she reflected a belief that was thousands of years old: garlic was best for medicine, not for eating. To add it to your dinner was considered the equivalent of serving a cough syrup soup.

There are records of ancient Greek doctors who prescribed garlic as a strengthening food, and bulbs were recovered from Egyptian pyramids. Garlic was being cultivated in China at least 4,000 years ago, and upper class Romans would never serve garlic for dinner; to them, it tasted like medicine.

In medieval Europe, garlic was considered food only for the humble and low.  While those that could afford it imported spices like black pepper from the Far East, lower classes used herbs they could grow. Garlic’s intense flavor helped peasants jazz up otherwise bland diets. It was made into dishes like aioli, originally a mixture of chopped garlic, bread crumbs, nuts and sometimes stewed meat. It was intended to be sopped up with bread, although it was occasionally served as a sauce to accompany meats in wealthier households.

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Garlic (Scientific name Allium Sativum) from Medical Botany (1790) by William Woodville.

The English, contrary to the stereotype about bland British cooking, seemed particularly enchanted by garlic. In the first known cooking document in English, a vellum scroll called The Form of Cury, a simple side dish is boiled bulbs of garlic. Food and medicine were closely intertwined in Medieval Europe, and garlic was served as a way to temper your humors. Humors were thought to be qualities of the body that affected on your health and personality. Garlic, which was thought be “hot and dry,” shouldn’t be consumed by someone who was quick to anger, but might succeed in pepping up a person who was too emotionally restrained. According to food historian Cathy Kaufman, a medieval feast might have a staggering amount of different dishes, all laid on the table at one time, so that different personality types could construct a meal that fit their humors.

Up through the 19th century, people also believed you got sick by inhaling bad air, called “miasmas.” Miasmas hang out by swamps, but also by sewage, or feet–I always imagined them as the puddles of mist that lie in the nooks between hills on dark country roads. Garlic can help you with miasmas, too. Ever see an image of plague doctors from Medieval Europe wearing masks with a long, bird-like beak? The beak was filled with odorous herbs, garlic likely among them, designed to combat miasmas.

In 18th-century France, a group of thieves may have been inspired by these plague masks. During an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Marseilles in 1726 (or 1655, stories deviate), a group of thieves were accused of robbing dead bodies and the houses of the deceased and ailing, without seeming to contract the disease themselves. Their lucky charms against the miasmas? They steeped garlic in vinegar, and soaked a cloth or a sponge in the liquid, then tied it like a surgical mask over their mouth and nose. In their minds, the strong smells would repel miasmas. This story is probably a legend, but I think there is some grain of truth to it: in modern studies, garlic has been shown to obfuscate some of the human smells that attract biting bugs. Since we now know bubonic plague was carried by fleas, it’s possible the thieves were repelling the insects. The plague is also a bacterial infection, and both vinegar and garlic are effective antimicrobials.

Garlic remained in the realm of medicine for most of the 19th century. Louis Pasteur first discovered that garlic was a powerful antimicrobial in 1858. In 1861, John Gunn assembled a medical book for use in the home, The New Domestic Physician, “with directions for using medicinal plants and the simplest and best new remedies.” Gunn recommends a poultice of roast garlic for ear infections:

“An excellent remedy for earache is as follows: Take three or four roasted garlics, and while hot mash, and add a tablespoonful of sweet oil and as much honey and laudanum; press out the juice, and drop of this into the ear, warm, occasionally.”

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Garlick from Botanologia: The English Herbal (1710) by William Salmon.

He also recommends garlic for clearing mucus from the lungs and reducing cough, given by the spoonful with honey and laudanum.  Gardening for the South: Or, How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits, an 1868 botanical guide, says the medicinal values of garlic include making you sweat, which,  like bloodletting, was believed to leach out disease; it will also make you urinate, and is an effective “worm destroyer,” for any intestinal hitchhikers you might have. By the late 19th century, scientists also used garlic to treat TB and injected it into the rectum to treat hemorrhoids.

Today, garlic is one of the most heavily used home remedies, and it is increasingly being studied in the medical field. Some of its historic uses have been proved as bunk–while others, like its efficacy as a topical antiseptic, hold up. But since the late 19th century, garlic has found an even more worthwhile home, thanks to French chefs and Italian immigrants, who spread their garlic heavy cuisine around the world, and made even garlic-reticent Americans a lover of this pungent plant.

Join us on Monday, June 5 to learn more about this topic.  Click HERE to register.

The Architecture of Health Care (Part 2)

Today’s guest post is written by Bert Hansen, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history at Baruch College of CUNY.  He is the author of Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (Rutgers, 2009), and other studies of medicine and science in the visual arts.  He is presenting an illustrated lecture about historic New York City buildings, followed by two walking tours-Uptown (May 13) and Downtown (May 20).  His 6 pm talk on Thursday, May 11, is entitled “Facades and Fashions in Medical Architecture and the Texture of the Urban Landscape.”  To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Part 1 introduced readers to the architectural firm of Sawyer and York and two of their medical buildings.  Part 2 now looks at Charles B. Meyers, who was responsible for dozens of major buildings in New York City and farther afield, including more than a dozen hospitals just in the city.  Still, he remains largely unknown outside of architectural history circles.

Readers of this blog are likely to know the red brick Psychiatric Hospital at Bellevue and Manhattan’s towering Criminal Court Building and House of Detention (New Deal WPA, 1938-41), sometimes called “The Tombs,” taking the name of an earlier building in neo-Egyptian style.[1]  Less familiar will be Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx and the Baruch College administration building (originally Family Court, 1939) on 22nd Street and Lexington Avenue.[2]  Some will have seen or visited the giant cube on Worth Street that housed the City’s Department of Health until 2011.  But it’s unlikely many could connect any of these with an architect’s name.  Even fifty years after his death, the imprint of Meyers on the look of New York is enormous while his name and career remain obscure.  Readily familiar buildings are seldom remembered as his elegant work.

Charles Bradford Meyers (ca.1875-1958) was an alumnus of City College and of Pratt Institute.  Early he worked in the office of Arthur Napier.  By the 1910s, he had began to specialize in schools, hospitals, and other public buildings.  Among about a dozen New York City hospitals he built, the Psychiatric building at Bellevue (1931) is one of the most familiar, in the red-brick and white-stone Beaux-Arts style that McKim Mead and White had established in their master plan for the Bellevue campus.

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The original Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital building (462 First Avenue). Source: Wikipedia.

His headquarters building for the New York City Department of Health (1935) at 125 Worth Street, right near two be-columned neo-classical courthouses, is a sleek, if monumental Art Deco cube with the names of famous healers inscribed on all four facades.  This building was one of many supported by federal infrastructure funding through the New Deal.  Nearby is another monumental work of his, the Manhattan Criminal Court Building of 1938-1941).  It, too, was a New Deal effort, one of thousands of such projects that are being documented in a crowd-sourced web-site, The Living New Deal.[3]

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New York City Department of Health (125 Worth Street). Source: Bert Hansen.

The former Morrisania Hospital (1929) in the Highbridge section of the Bronx is now an apartment cooperative, not generally accessible to architecture buffs or the public in general.  But I had an opportunity to visit last October during the weekend of Open House New York, when hundreds of generally private spaces are opened to the curious.

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The former Morrisania Hospital (East 168th Street between Gerard and Walton Avenues in the southern Bronx). Source: New York Housing Conference.

In the mid 1970s, Morrisania Hospital was closed at the time of the city’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, and the building sat empty for about twenty-five years.  During the time when its future was in doubt and it might have been demolished and lost to posterity, Christopher Gray wrote about it in his “Streetscapes” column in the New York Times (15 July 1990) with his characteristic blend of reportage and criticism:

“The façades are generally straw-colored brick, although they range from a light beige to a deep orange.  They are ornamented with delicately molded Renaissance-style terra cotta in acanthus leaf, egg and dart, Greek key and similar patterns.  Red roof tiles provide a final accent.  Although the main elevation, facing 168th Street, is fussy and over-decorated, the bulk of the complex is an educated, tasteful design—above the norm for municipal architecture in this period.”[4]

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Façade of the former Morrisania Hospital building. Source: Bert Hansen.

Gray wrote this column weekly from 1987 to 2014, offering such stimulating insights over more than twenty-five years.  I was one of his readers and, in retrospect, I now realize how much he shaped my awareness of the visual pleasures of the New York City’s historic architecture.  After Gray’s death earlier this spring, another New York Times writer on architecture and urban life, David W. Dunlap, called to mind Gray’s distinctive approach:  “Gray did not serve up conventional architectural assessments. . . .  His columns were narratives of creation, abandonment, and restoration that lovingly highlighted quirky design and backstairs gossip from decades past.”  And Gray himself, perhaps thinking of overlooked treasures like Morrisania Hospital, had once remarked, “I am much more interested in minor-league, oddball structures than in tour-bus monuments like the Woolworth Building.”[5]

Meyers was a prolific architect with a career of nearly sixty years.  His buildings exhibited a remarkable range of uses and aesthetic styles.  Because they are scattered around the city (and beyond), one can’t do a Charles B. Meyers walking tour.  But the historically curious can still visit former hospital buildings like Morrisania and Bellevue Psychiatry as well as the elegant downtown Art Deco cube that he built for the Health Department (since relocated to Queens) and that is now called the Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation Departments Building.

References:
[1] Norval White, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon, AIA Guide to New York City, fifth ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 80.
[2]Alex Gelfand, “The Development and Evolution of the Baruch Campus,” (including photographs of architectural decoration on the Meyers building).
[3] The Living New Deal. “Manhattan Criminal Court Building-New York NY.”
[4] Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes: Morrisania Hospital; A Tidy Relic of the 1920’s Looking for a New Use,” New York Times, July 15, 1990, p. R8.
[5] David W. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Who Chronicled New York Architecture, Is Dead at 66,” New York Times, March 14, 2017, p. B15.

The Architecture of Health Care (Part 1)

Today’s guest post is written by Bert Hansen, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history at Baruch College of CUNY.  He is the author of Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (Rutgers, 2009), and other studies of medicine and science in the visual arts.  He is presenting an illustrated lecture about historic New York City buildings, followed by two walking tours-Uptown (May 13) and Downtown (May 20).  His 6 pm talk on Thursday, May 11, is entitled “Facades and Fashions in Medical Architecture and the Texture of the Urban Landscape.”  To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Even people who are not architecture buffs usually recognize big contemporary names in architecture like I. M. Pei (the Louvre pyramid) of Pei Cobb Fried and Partners (Bellevue’s new Atrium Pavilion, 2005) or Skidmore Owings and Merrill (New York University Medical School buildings in the 1950s and Mt. Sinai’s Annenberg Pavilion of 1976).  Most New Yorkers have also run into the firm of McKim Mead and White’s many New York City buildings and their master plans for Columbia University and the Bellevue Hospital campus.

But what about Charles B. Meyers and the firm of York and Sawyer—both from the early twentieth century?  New Yorkers certainly know several of their contributions to the architecture of health care and to the cityscape more widely, but usually without knowing the designers’ names.

This blog introduces York and Sawyer.  The work of Charles B. Meyer will appear in a subsequent installment.

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The former Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital (1249 Fifth Avenue).  Source: © Matthew X. Kiernan/New York Big Apple Images.

In 1921, their handsome and stately Fifth Avenue Hospital in Beaux-Arts style was completed and dedicated.  It spanned the block between 105th and 106th Streets, facing the entrance to Central Park’s Conservatory Garden.  The lower parts of the facade were of light colored limestone blocks and the upper parts were stucco in the same color.  It had terra cotta trim and a tile roof.  Although its X-shape floor plan was traditional, this design broke new ground in being a hospital without wards—only private rooms.[1]  The hospital was later renamed Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital, and the building is currently home to the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center.

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Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital floor plan of the fourth and fifth floors. Source: Architecture Review (1920).

The principals of the firm were Edward York (1863–1928) and Philip Sawyer (1868–1949), who established their firm in 1898 after they met while both were employed at McKim Mead and White.  They continued the American version of Beaux-Arts principles exemplified by McKim Mean and White’s work even as they expanded classical and Renaissance style to high-rise buildings made possible by the invention of the Otis safety elevator.  Among their many New York City buildings, readers are probably familiar with the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, the Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty Street, the Bowery Savings Bank on East 42nd Street, and the Central Savings Bank on 73rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam (now the Apple Bank for Savings).

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Federal Reserve Bank (33 Liberty Street). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Just four years after the Fifth Avenue Hospital opened, the New York Academy of Medicine laid a cornerstone for its new home on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, also designed by York and Sawyer.  This building had a dedication on November 18, 1926, which the following day’s New York Times headlined “Medical Academy in $2,000,000 Home.”  (Adjusted for inflation that project would cost about $27 million today).  An Italianate palazzo with Romanesque and Byzantine elements and faced in large stone blocks of variegated greys, the Academy was quite different from the classical lines and the uniform light color of their nearby hospital.  But both were beautiful additions to a rapidly developing upper Fifth Avenue, now often called “Museum Mile.”  They were proud—and enduring—achievements for the architects and for the health care institutions they served so well.

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The New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue).

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Entrance to the New York Academy of Medicine.

Reference:
[1] Anonymous, “The Fifth Avenue Hospital and Laura Franklin Free Hospital for Children, New York City: York & Sawyer, Architects, Wiley Egan Woodbury, M.D., Consultant,” The Architectural Review 11:5 (November 1920), 129-140 plus unnumbered glossy plates.

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.