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.

CANY_reportcouncilhygiene_encroachmentnuisances_ca1865_watermarked

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.

Illustrated Newspaper August 1881_cholera_watermark

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.

Germ City exhibit graphic_ltblue

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!

Wound Ballistics: The Science of Injury and the Mystery of Exploding Bullets

1018Johnkinder-FBToday’s guest post is written by John Kinder, Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Oklahoma State University. He is the author of Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran (University of Chicago Press, 2015). On Tuesday, October 17, Kinder will give his talk, “A History of American War in Five Bodies.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

On March 11, 1944, an American soldier in the 182d Infantry was digging a foxhole on the island of Bougainville when a Japanese bullet ricocheted and hit him in the ankle. The wound didn’t look that serious. There was almost no blood. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry. Medics bandaged the wound, loaded the soldier onto a litter, and started down the hill to the aid station. He was dead before they reached the bottom.

I recently discovered this story in a volume on wound ballistics published by the US Army Medical Department in the early 1960s. Wound ballistics is the study of the physiological trauma produced by modern projectile weapons. It achieved quasi-scientific status in the late nineteenth century, as military physicians and other self-proclaimed wound experts carried out experiments to measure and ultimately predict what happened when chemically-projected metal collided with living human tissue.

Early on, much of their research involved shooting ammunition into pine boards or the carcasses of  animals to estimate the casualty-causing potential of various armaments. Over time, however, wound ballisticians developed increasingly sophisticated techniques for mapping the body’s vulnerability to different weapons and fine-tuning the production of physiological trauma.

Dog

Microsecond X-ray of the femur of a dog after it has been shot by an 8/32-inch steel ball travelling at 4,000 feet per second. The bone has been shattered despite the fact that it was not actually hit by the steel ball. In order to understand the mechanisms of human injury, World War II-era scientists carried out ballistics experiments on a variety of “model” targets including living dogs, cats, pigs, and horses, as well as blocks of gelatin and tanks of water. 

In the process, they also managed to solve one of the most head-scratching mysteries in nineteenth-century military medicine. The mystery emerged in the mid-century, when growing numbers of observers began to notice a peculiar phenomenon: soldiers were dying from what initially appeared to be relatively minor “through-and-through” wounds. High-velocity bullets seemed to enter and exit the body with only minimal damage. Upon autopsy, however, surgeons discovered extensive internal trauma—pulped tissue, ruptured veins, shattered bones—far outside of the track of the bullet. How was this possible? As early as the 1840s, critics charged that the wounds must be the product of “exploding bullets,” which were subsequently banned by international treaty in 1868. In later years, physicians speculated that the internal explosions were caused by compressed air or heat, but nothing could be proven.

Cat

Microsecond X-ray of a thigh of a cat that has been shot by a 4/32-inch steel ball at an impact velocity of 3,000 feet per second. The dark area is the temporary cavity formed as the ball passes through the muscle tissues. X-rays like this one helped wound ballisticians explain the “explosive effect” that mystified nineteenth-century military physicians. 

By the 1940s, scientists were able to use X-rays and high-speed cameras to solve the mystery once and for all. They discovered that, around 200-400 microseconds after a high-speed bullet strikes a human body, a temporary cavity begins to form around the bullet path. This cavity, which expands and contracts in a fraction of a second, can be more than 20 times the volume of the permanent wound track, resulting in the explosive damage to nearby tissue and bone. And, thanks to the elasticity of human skin, the bullet’s entrance and exit wounds might be nearly closed over by the time the patient reaches medical attention. It was remarkable discovery—not least because it affirmed wound ballisticians’ belief that, when it came to understanding injury, the human eye was no match for a scientist and a machine.

To this day, practitioners of wound ballistics like to justify their work in humanitarian terms. The goal of their research, they often say, is to help military surgeons and body armor manufacturers cut down on unnecessary deaths. All of this is true—to a certain extent. From the very start, however, the field of wound ballistics has played a more ominous role in military history. If wound ballistics is the science of injury, it is also the science of injuring others. Understanding the body’s vulnerabilities has allowed warring nations to develop deadlier antipersonnel weapons: armaments designed to pulverize, poison, burn, shred, emulsify, and eviscerate the bodies of one’s enemies.

No doubt, some readers might be wondering about the soldier at Bougainville, the one who died after a light wound to the ankle. Was he too a victim of the “exploding bullet” phenomenon? As it turns out, his death can be chalked up to a more quotidian threat: human error. Today, we can only speculate about the medics’ actions: perhaps they were in a hurry, or perhaps they were exhausted after a brutal day of fighting, or perhaps—and this is my guess—they were so used to seeing war’s butchery that this soldier’s injury appeared inconsequential by comparison. Whatever the reason, they failed to apply a tourniquet to the wounded man’s leg.

Shortly after the litter party started down the hill, the soldier’s ankle began to hemorrhage. As blood drained from his body, he said that he felt cold. Within minutes, he was dead.

References:
1. International Committee of the Red Cross. Wound Ballistics: an Introduction for Health, Legal, Forensic, Military and Law Enforcement Professionals (film). 2008.
2. Kinder, John. Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
3. Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868 (full title: Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight”). November 29-December 11, 1868.
4. United States Army Medical Department. Wound Ballistics. Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, 1962.

Images:
Dog X-ray: Newton Harvey, J. Howard McMillan, Elmer G. Butler, and William O. Puckett, “Mechanism of Wounding,” in United States Army Medical Department, Wound Ballistics (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, 1962), 204.
Cat X-ray: Ibid, 176.

More Than Medicine: Social Justice and Feminist Movements for Health

COS-Series-Twitter-R1 Event 1005Today’s guest post is written by Jennifer Nelson, Professor at University of Redlands, specializing in women’s history, the history of feminism in the United States, and medical histories associated with social justice movements. She is the author of More Than Medicine (NYUPress, 2015).

On Thursday, October 5, Nelson will give her talk, “More Than Medicine: Social Justice and Feminist Movements for Health.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

I begin my story of social justice and feminist movements for health with the Mound Bayou demonstration clinic—located in the Mississippi Delta. The clinic was founded by medical doctors who had been part of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR). Most had come to Mississippi to volunteer during the 1964 Freedom Summer, although several others were locals active in the Delta Ministry, a Mississippi based Civil Rights organization.

Dr. H. Jack Geiger and the other founders of the Delta Health Center clinic worked with the Mound Bayou community to prioritize health needs. They quickly discovered that community members needed more than traditional medicine: they demanded food, jobs, and housing—linking these to the promotion of health. The clinic included a cooperative farm that grew vegetables for the community, since most of what was grown in the Delta was for commercial consumption. Click HERE to listen to Dr. Geiger talk about his experiences in Mississippi at the National Library of Medicine exhibit on the Delta Health Center.

Many historians of social movements have emphasized that the women’s liberation movement emerged from the Civil Rights movement. I also pay attention to this connection, but focus on the use of medicine to achieve social justice goals in both the Civil Rights and women’s liberation movements. In both of these contexts, activists expanded the meaning of medicine in the process.

In the 1980s women’s health movement feminists were also grappling with conversations about race and racism. Since the early 1970s, women of color had been demanding that feminists pay more attention to issues raised by women of color. In the 1970s much of the focus was on sterilization abuse. In the 1980s attention shifted to HIV transmission, safer sex, and AIDS. Dazon Dixon Diallo, one of the only women of color working at the Atlanta Feminist Women’s Health Center in the 1980s, focused on developing a program called the Women with AIDS Partnership Project.

Here is a clip from a talk given by Diallo about her organization SisterLove, which she formed when she left the Atlanta FWHC to more directly address HIV/AIDS:

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Dazon Dixon Diallo. (Click image to watch video).

My book also focuses on Loretta Ross, one of the most important founders of the Reproductive Justice Movement, which sought to broaden the feminist discourse around “choice” to address the systemic problems associated with poverty and discrimination that prevented many women of color from simply choosing to have or not have children. Ross’s work connects back to the Civil Rights efforts in Mound Bayou among MCHR activists and local organizers with the Delta Health Center. Ross, by forging a reproductive justice framework, maintained that health promotion for poor women could not rest on medicine alone.

More Than Medicine: Social Justice and Feminist Movements for Health is the third event in the three part event series, Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle. The series examines key battles over women’s ability to control their bodies, health choices, and fertility. It is developed in collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York and supported by a grant from Humanities New York.

Artist Inspiration: Plant Cure (Part 3)

Plant Cure evite test11+SarahThe New York Academy of Medicine Library and CENTRAL BOOKING collaborated on the exhibition Plant Cure.  For this exhibition, five artists were selected to do research at the Academy Library over six months to produce work with their own unique take on medicinal plants. The project will culminate with an exhibition at CENTRAL BOOKING on the Lower East Side from September 6-October 29, 2017. Part 1 and 2 can be read here and here.

Maddy Rosenberg

Plant Cure, the collaborative project between CENTRAL BOOKING and The New York Academy of Medicine Library, percolating for over a year, is about to open to the public on September 6. The project includes a two month-long exhibition featuring the work of 19 international artists, vitrines documenting the inspiration and process of the five Artists in Residence, a catalog, and a program of events at both venues.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to assemble the work of these artists who bring their own unique interpretations of plants and their medicinal qualities. From meticulously rendered drawings and water colors to an installation of sculptural free-standing collage works that seem to multiply from pedestal to pedestal, to a medicine cabinet that is beyond the expected, these works offer the viewer science from an artistic slant. In addition, interspersed within the CENTRAL BOOKING exhibition is a video-projected panorama of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room and a floor to ceiling cabinet of curiosities.

But Plant Cure was more than a curatorial project for me. I enjoyed being the “honorary” sixth artist in the Academy Library. It was an opportunity for me to go beyond researching ideas for shaping the exhibition at CENTRAL BOOKING, mindful, as well, of pursuing material for my own studio work. The personal one-on-one access to exquisitely designed and illustrated books dating back hundreds of years was like hitting the mother lode for me, with the aid of the fountain of information and helpful direction of Arlene Shaner steering every visit through the vast possibilities.

My aim was to take my interest in medical museums and historic medical texts that are chock full of hand drawn images, add the science of the medicinal usefulness of plants combined with their aesthetic qualities, and make art out of it. The artists’ orientation at the library got the thought processes churning when I saw the collection of Burdock Blood Bitters advertising cards as a way of linking the plants with the cure. Always one to add an element to the flat page, whether it be built in pop-ups or interactive movable components, I requested in my next visit to see several of the anatomical flapbooks, and drew considerably from ones such as The BodyScope (1948) by Ralph H. Segal and Anatomicum Vivum (1720) by Christoph von Hellwig. The plant references I used came heavily from The Herball; or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) by John Gerarde and published in London in 1597.

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Inspiration: The Herball; or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) by John Gerarde.

From there emerged an artist’s book of my own medicinal cards with composite images on one side and texts of the cures on the reverse, tucked into pockets of an accordion book to hold them, framed by the drawings of the plants themselves, much like a traditional book of hours. A second artist’s book that is even more a two-dimensional object that becomes a three-dimensional structure through pop-ups and its own flaps, is in process. I am certain with all the material I was able to accumulate and am still digesting, pieces of the Academy Library collection will wind up in many more of my works to come.

Medicinal cards. Maddy Rosenberg (2017).

I am happy to introduce Mary Ting, the last of our five official CENTRAL BOOKING artists at the New York Academy of Medicine Library, who comes with a long interest in medicinal plants through family heritage and her own love of gardening.

Mary Ting

Secluded away in the library of the New York Academy of Medicine, surrounded by bookcases of historical medical texts, I have been intoxicated by the books containing magical illustrations of astonishing beauty and text that entice unanswerable questions. I have been looking and re-looking at the Hortus Sanitatus, various medical botany books, and anatomical flap books. Of particular interest for me are common medicinal plants, (such as ginseng, valerian, mandrake, snakeweed, dandelion, foxglove) ones that have figured in my garden, family life, and are also of cultural interest.

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Academy Library references: Pages from Hortus Sanitatis (1517); The Practical Home Physician (1887); and Medical Botany (1834).

Having grown up weeding beside my mother in her ornamental garden and in a house with one hundred orchids and dried specimens tucked away in drawers, plants and fungi have always held an important place in my life. These were not just specimens but also markers of our family migrations. Of particular reverence is the dried lingzi mushroom that my mother plucked from her college campus (Ginling Women’s College, Nanjing, 1943). This pondering of history, family, nature and grief is central to my work; it is also why this exhibition, Plant Cure, and the research at the Academy Library is an incredible opportunity and a never-ending bounty to feed from.

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Pan and Ting family collection of ginseng and mushroom.

One work to come out of this residency is Holding On, which deals with the interwoven relationship of botany and medicine. I have incorporated empty Ginseng Royal jelly glass bottles as “fruit” on the vine, the red and blue wires refer to the arteries and the plastic tubing to intravenous drip tubing. The title refers to the notion that Ginseng root could be gnawed on in one’s last hours while waiting for the arrival of your children for the final goodbye.

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Mary Ting, Holding On (detail), 2017, vine, wire, plastic tubing, glass, 80 x 24 x 10 inches.

The library research also inspired The Gardener’s Medical Manual, a new rendition of an earlier series, The Other Garden.  Among outsized botanical specimens with eyes, one can find a woodblock image from the ancient Chinese classic, Mountains and Seas, 山海经, an early geography text that was meant to be neither factual nor allegorical. Centipedes also loom large, as my grandmother’s life was saved by the medical application of a poisonous centipede.

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Mary Ting, The Gardeners Medicinal Manual (detail), 2017, cut tyvek, silkscreen, rubberstamps, ink, 20 x 30 inches.

I am continually struck by how so much has changed outwardly, given technological developments, but our medieval notions of man’s dominion over nature and its ravaging remains unchanged. The lure of wild ginseng continues with its illegal harvesting and unsustainable consumption. Though I suspect that it functions primarily as a status gift and that many, like my family members, never utilize the roots and the children arrive too late for the final goodbye.

Artist Inspiration: Plant Cure (Part 2)

Todays’ guest post is introduced by Maddy Rosenberg, curator and founder of CENTRAL BOOKING. The New York Academy of Medicine Library and CENTRAL BOOKING collaborated on the exhibition Plant Cure.  For this exhibition, five artists were selected to do research at the Academy Library over six months to produce work with their own unique take on medicinal plants. The project will culminate with an exhibition at CENTRAL BOOKING on the Lower East Side from September 6-October 29, 2017. Part 1 can be read here.

The next two artists featured in the Plant Cure collaboration between CENTRAL BOOKING and the New York Academy of Medicine Library are Susan Rostow and C Bangs. Susan’s sculptural work is extremely textural and beckons to be touched, while with C it’s our eye that takes the journey over the surfaces. Both artists’ works engage us and demand closer scrutiny.

Susan Rostow

I spent many wonderful hours of my childhood reading the encyclopedia. A set of books from A to Z neatly organized on a shelf with the entire world’s information gave me great joy. I may be a romantic, waxing poetic and nostalgic about the past, but that has not stopped me from enjoying the present times of clicking and swiping through Google images and other websites. My ongoing fascination with information, books and images continued to grow through decades and is presently expressed in my sculptural books.

The first time I entered the New York Academy of Medicine Library and was surrounded by rare books dating from the 15th through the 18th centuries, I felt as though I traveled back in time and entered the Middle Ages. I was taken with the smell of the leather covers, amazed by the weight and size of some of the books, marveled at the odd titles on the bindings, and was captured by highly detailed and precise illustrations. Prodigiorum Ostentorum Chronicon (1557) by Konrad Lykosthenes and Osteographia, or, The Anatomy of the Bones (1733) by William Cheselden are a couple of my favorites.

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Susan Rostow working in studio.

Feeling incredibly inspired, I took my excitement to the studio along with photos of the pictures from the various books I had observed. Armed with a plethora of images and plenty of ideas, I began to work on my vision. Images of medicinal mushrooms and text pertaining to plant cures were put to use by first making carborundum printmaking plates. This is a low tech method used for making plates by hand. This simple, but elegant technique allowed me to connect with some of the similar hand techniques used by the original artists. I printed them with an etching press, a simple press whose basic principle has not changed for centuries. Choosing to use this technique with an old style press made me feel connected to some of the reproductions from the New York Academy of Medicine Library’s rare book collection.

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Susan Rostow, Bone Fungus. 2017, mixed media sculptural book with carborundum prints on paper, dried mushroom, wood, parabolic mirrors, real and plastic bones, sand, glass beads and pigments, 25 x 26 x 26 inches.

After printing hundreds of images of mushrooms and text on paper, the prints were bound together with dried mushrooms, mud, natural glues, and pigments. Paper, tree fungus, roots, soil, and casts from bones merged together creating sculptural books that look, smell and feel like unearthed relics secreted beneath the earth. Hopefully this synthesis captured some of the magic that I felt when I first viewed these incredibly illustrated books.

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Susan Rostow’s sculptural book Bone Fungus (left and center), and detail of Cheselden’s anatomical illustration (1733) (right).

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Prodigioky Ostentory Chronicon (left) William Cheselden’s anatomical illustration (1733) (center), and detail from Susan Rostow’s sculptural book Bone Fungus (right).

C Bangs

My art investigates frontier science combined with symbolist figuration from an ecological feminist point of view. A decade long collaboration with quantum consciousness physicist Dr. Evan Harris Walker has lead me to incorporate his equations in my paintings in a manner mutually agreed upon, designed to posit questions related to his theories. Functioning as design elements that often speak to the interconnectivity of everything in the cosmos, the equations parallel the sacred writings found in illuminated manuscripts. In recent collaboration with my partner, Dr. Greg Matloff, we investigate consciousness from the point of view of panpsychism philosophically, historically and scientifically.

The books I researched at the New York Academy of Medicine Library included Robert Fludd and Konrad Lykosthenes. What does humankind preserve and what do we eliminate? Fludd had a theory of cosmic harmony and Kepler correctly accused Fludd of being a theosophist. Additionally Fludd is remembered as an astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist, Quabalist and Rosicrucian. His writing centered around sympathies found in nature between man, the earth and the divine.

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Flowering Pavonis seeds used as an abortifacient with fetus studies. C Bangs (2017).

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden ultimately lead me to contact the New York Botanical Garden. Merian wrote that slave women’s use of the peacock flower was deeply political, using it to abort pregnancies forced upon them by their slave owners. The history of abortifacients is nearly as old as the written word and the determination of pregnancy was left to the woman, who was not considered pregnant until she declared herself to be so. When the Catholic Church realized that they could not regulate abortifacients or convict the women who used them, they began persecuting midwives, declaring them witches.[1] The enforcement of religious law and witch burning was an effective tool for breaking a chain of knowledge about abortifacients that had been in circulation for over a thousand years. Despite Merian’s revelation about the peacock flower in her book, widely used by botanists and men of medicine, this knowledge was ignored. Merchants valued the plant’s looks and shipped large amounts of its seeds to their home countries, where the flower decorated many royal gardens.

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Flowering Pavonis and diagrams from Robert Fludd’s Utriusque cosmi majoris scilicet et minoris metaphysica (1617-1621). C Bangs (2017).

Ironically, when I wished to photograph the peacock flower at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or the New York Botanical Garden, I found that it had been deaccessioned by Brooklyn and is kept in a section not available to the public at the New York Botanical Garden.

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Flowering Pavonis and images from Konrad Lykosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon (1557). C Bangs (2017).

Reference:
[1] Edwards, Stassa. The History of Abortifacients. Jezebel: 2014, November 18.