Death, Deformity, Decay: Memento Mori and the Case of the Colloredo Twins

This guest post is by Rach Klein. Rach is an art history Masters Candidate at McGill University whose research focuses on the early modern grotesque, medical illustration, and print. She is a current recipient of a Joseph-Armand Bombardier grant, as well as a Michael Smith Foreign Studies scholarship.

Throughout the last month I have had the privilege of working in the NYAM Library, looking directly at their remarkable collection of broadsheets and rare books.  The opportunity to closely examine the objects and images that I am studying is unparalleled. My research locates a framework for viewing 17th-century non-normative and “freakish” bodies in the memento mori traditions of the previous century. Memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning, “remember you will die,” became shorthand for a host of visual imagery and cultural objects rooted in medieval Christian theory, which permeated the European early modern.  With a specific focus on the culture of spectacle employed by early modern “shows of wonder” and touring freak shows, the research that I have been doing at NYAM combines visual analysis with medical history and disability studies to suggest that integral to the creation of early modern “freaks” is a manipulation of non-normative persons into objects that spark mortuary contemplation. Guiding this research is the case of Italian conjoined/parasitic twins Lazarus Colloredo and Joannes Baptista Colloredo (1617–1646). Their journey, which is remarkably well-documented in both text and image (for example, see Fig. 1), showcases the duality of the so-called “freak body” and its links to mortuary philosophy.

Historia Ænigmatica, de gemellis Genoæ connati

Fig. 1. Mylbourne, R. (Publisher). (1637). Historia Ænigmatica, de gemellis Genoæ connatis, [Engraving]. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

In 1617, Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo were born into a life of spectacle and uncertainty. Protruding laterally from the breast of Lazarus was his twin brother, Joannes Baptista, whose malformed body lived partially inside him. Unable to speak or move independently, Joannes Baptista was deemed a “parasitic twin”.  As living persons that defy expectations of the “normative,” visual documentation of the Colloredo twins’ spectacular bodies/body provides insight into anxieties about the boundaries between animate/inanimate, normal/abnormal, beauty/ugliness, soul/body, and, ultimately, life/death. Jan Bondeson calls attention to how remarkable their story is, even within the history of conjoined twins. He says:

Conjoined twins are the result of imperfect splitting of a fertilized ovum and the site of conjunction depends on which part of the splitting has not occurred. Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Collerado represent one of the very few convincing cases of viable omphalopagus parasiticus twins (who lived).[1]

The words in parentheses here, “who lived,” iterate the challenges of piecing together a history of marginalized persons such as those who are disabled and deformed, and the gentle surprise provoked by the twins’ survival.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery found throughout my research is the nonlinear timeline in scholarship about these twins due to a misattributed/incorrectly labelled print from Giovanni Battista de’Cavalieri’s series of engravings, Opera nel a quale vie molti Mostri de tute le parti del mondo antichi et Moderni (Monsters from all parts of the ancient and modern world), published in 1585 (Fig. 2). This image, which is reprinted in Fortunio Liceti’s 1634 De Monstrorum Caussis (Fig. 3), is captioned with the twins’ names and place of birth, despite having been created thirty-years prior to their birth. As with many “freakish” bodies, the accuracy of their experience exists separately from its visual history.[2]

Although these contradictions of dates and attributions make reproducing a clean narrative difficult, they reflect a larger theme of teratology: that bodies are detached from persons, and imaginative ideals misaligned from lived experience. The image by de’ Cavalieri was likely a representation of an earlier set of conjoined twins in the 16th century, perhaps based on conjoined twins mentioned by Ambrose Paré in 1530. This image is subsequently reproduced in Liceti’s 1665 edition of his work, now titled De Monstris. Hence, the twins’ image has been collapsed into a narrative that took place well before their birth, and which frames them as simultaneously alive and dead.

 

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Fig. 3. Liceti, F. (1634). [Rueffo puer Amiterni natus uno brachio, fed pedibus tribus in hanc effigiem] (p. 117). De monstrorum caussis, natura, et differentiis libri duo … Padua, Italy: Apud Paulum Frambottum.

Worries and uncertainties over death and the body make themselves known in images and stories documenting the “freakish” body. Art that has been traditionally deemed “grotesque,” “macabre,” or more colloquially, simply “disturbing” is part of a symbolic system that expresses metaphysical anxieties about what lurks beneath the surface of the body. I am not attempting to medicalize nor romanticize the history of those who are or have been designated as disabled, deformed, monstrous, and freakish. Rather, my aim is to provide a critical and historical study of how non-normative bodies have been catalogued as a memento mori for its witnesses and used by able-bodied viewers as tools of self-reflection and meditation, a practice that actively erases personhood in favour of objectification.[3]

References

[1] Bondeson, Jan. The Two-headed Boy: And Other Medical Marvels. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

[2] Jillings, Karen. “Monstrosity as Spectacle: The Two Inseparable Brothers’ European Tour of the 1630s and 1640s.” Popular Entertainment Studies 2, no. 1 (2011): 54–68.

[3] My work is particularly indebted to the disability, feminist, and race scholarship of Tobin Siebers (Disability Aesthetics), Rana Hogarth (Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840), and Elizabeth Grosz (Volatile Bodies).

Further Reading

Bates, A. W., Emblematic Monsters: Unnatural Conceptions and Deformed Births in Early Modern Europe. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.

Benedict, Barbara M. Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Daston, Lorraine, and Katharine Park. Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. New York: Zone Books, 2012.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

Remembering the Syphilis Study in Tuskegee

This guest post is by Dr. Susan Reverby, the Marion Butler McLean Professor Emerita in the History of Ideas and Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College. This year she is a fellow at the Project on Race and Gender in Science and Medicine at the Hutchins Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Reverby is most recently the author of the multiple prize winning book, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy and the historian whose work on immoral U.S. led research in Guatemala in the late 1940s led to a federal apology in 2010. She is currently completing her latest book, The Revolutionary Life of Brother Doc: A 20th Century White Man’s Tale (University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

Conspiracy theories and myths, medical and otherwise, often reflect ways to cope with racism in its multiple nefarious forms.   Many such tales focus on destruction of the black body: from the fears that Church’s chicken, now Popeye’s, put something in their frying that caused Black men to become sterile to the beliefs in South Africa that the HIV virus was spread by false vaccinations funded by the C.I.A. and British intelligence. Did you hear the one about the U.S. government letting hundreds of black men in and around Tuskegee, Alabama with syphilis not get to treatment that went on for four decades between 1932 and 1972?  Or that the government actually gave the men the syphilis and you can see it in the photographs, especially if you cannot differentiate between a blood draw and an injection?

Photograph of Participant in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Centers for Disease Control: Venereal Disease Branch. (ca. 1953). Photograph of Participant in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Image from https://catalog.archives.gov/id/824612

Only the fact that the government tried to make sure the men who already had late latent syphilis did not get treatment for forty years is true among these tales, and horrendous enough. Now we have to consider the meaning given to this Study over the nearly fifty years since it became widespread public knowledge.

The exposure of the Study came at the end of the modern Civil Rights era and after the medical community was beginning to acknowledge that even the “good guys” did immoral work. Along with the unethical studies at Willowbrook [1] and the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital [2], the experiment in Tuskegee led to the federal Belmont Report [3] and the modern era of institutional review boards and regulations surrounding informed consent.

Kenan Thompson Hugh Laurie

King, D. R. (Director).  (2006, October 28). Modern Medicine: Hugh Laurie/Beck [Television series episode].  In L. Michaels (Producer), Saturday Night Live. New York, NY: NBC.

For many in the health care community and general public the words “Tuskegee” became symbolic of racism in medical research and care, making its way into popular culture in songs, plays, poems, rap, and cultural imagination.   In 2006, Hugh Laurie (T.V.’s irascible Dr. House) hosted Saturday Night Live and played the wife in a skit with patient Kenan Thompson. When the doctor offers care to Thompson, Laurie and Thompson both look at one another and yell “We know what this is: Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee.” Others have done academic studies that prove and disprove that it is the memory of Tuskegee that keeps African American patients from seeking care or participating in research trials.  What we do know is that the subtle, and not so subtle, forms of racism create an aura of distrust that affects the kind of health care African Americans both seek and receive whether they know the details of what happened half a century ago or not.

So can there be another Tuskegee?  If by this question we mean the misrepresentation in informed consent, the danger of scientific hubris, and the misuse of patients of color:  probably in some form. Just as importantly, we need to ask what meaning is given to these experiences once they become public? How can the health care and public health communities create what historian Vanessa Northington Gamble calls “trustworthiness.”  It is the meaning of the study in Tuskegee that needs to be assessed, taught and considered. For it is this meaning that reverberates long after the men caught in its grasp wandered in the medical desert for 40 years, and long after any knowledge of its facts actually fade.

Join Susan Reverby along with moderator Aletha Maybank and Monique Guishard for our panel on February 26th, Could Tuskegee Happen Today?, addressing the history and legacy of the study and why it remains relevant today.

Footnotes

[1] J.D. Howell, R.A.Haywood, “Writing Willowbrook, Reading Willowbrook: The Recounting of a Medical Experiment. In: J. Goodman, A. McElligott and L. Marks, eds. Using Bodies: Humans in the Service of Medical Science in the 20th Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 190-213.

[2] Barron H. Lerner, “Sins of Omission—Cancer Research without Informed Consent,” New England Journal of Medicine 351 (2004): 628-630.

[3] Office of the Secretary, The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, April 18, 1979.

Looking Out for the Health of the Nation: The History of the U.S. Surgeon General

By Judith Salerno M.D., M.S., President; and Paul Theerman, Ph.D., Director of the Library

It is widely recognized that the role of the U.S. Surgeon General is to set the national agenda for health and wellness. In describing the position, the Surgeon General’s website states that: “As the Nation’s Doctor, the Surgeon General provides Americans with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury.”

The position, and the role of today’s U.S. Public Health Service, evolved from very modest beginnings. The story begins in 1798, during President John Adams’ term, with the passage of a law that created a fund to provide medical services for merchant seamen. The following year military seamen were included as well, with the cost of their care paid through a deduction from the seamen’s wages. Over the next 60 years, the government built hospitals in the country’s seaports and river ports.

Fast forward to the Civil War, in the course of which the Federal marine hospitals almost ceased to function. In the aftermath of the War, the Marine Hospital Service was established in 1870 to revitalize them as a national hospital system. Administration was centralized under a medical officer, the Supervising Surgeon, who was later given the title of Surgeon General. The first Supervising Surgeon, Dr. John Woodworth, set about creating a corps of medical personnel to run the Marine Hospital Service. In 1889, Congress officially recognized this new personnel system by formally authorizing the creation of the Commissioned Corps. These public health workers, all of whom initially were physicians, were organized along military lines, with the Surgeon General as their leader. The Surgeon General was given a rank equivalent to a three-star Admiral.

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“Aerial View U.S. Marine Hospital Stapleton, Staten Island, N.Y.” From the collection of Dr. Robert Matz, New York Academy of Medicine Library.

In the decades following the Civil War, the federal government began to assume many duties and responsibilities that heretofore had been undertaken by the states. The Marine Hospital Service took over the administration of quarantines and the health inspection of immigrants. It established a bacteriological lab on Staten Island (the “Hygienic Laboratory”) to better understand infectious diseases, and it ran a hospital on Ellis Island. The Service also coordinated state health efforts and standardized and published health statistics. In 1878, it began the publication of Public Health Reports (the official journal of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service).

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“Doctor’s Examination.” From Quarantine Sketches.

At the turn of the previous century, as part of the progressive era reforms, the Service was given responsibility for controlling the quality of newly developed vaccines. And in 1912, the Service was given a new name—the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). Its mission was to:

“Investigate the diseases of man and conditions influencing the propagation and spread thereof, including sanitation and sewage and the pollution either directly or indirectly of the navigable streams and lakes of the United States.”

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Public Health Service took on an increasingly important role. Its staff grappled with the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and, for a time, it attended to the needs of injured veterans who were returning from World War I. It also undertook research into endemic diseases. For example, a USPHS physician, Dr. Joseph McMullen, did pioneering work in controlling trachoma (an infectious eye disease) and another USPHS doctor, Joseph Goldberger, made the discovery that a dietary deficiency causes pellagra.

The Service set up hospitals for the treatment of narcotics addiction in Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas. Its efforts to control malaria in the American South led to the establishment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the move of the Hygienic Laboratory from New York to Washington was the precursor to the establishment of the National Institutes of Health. USPHS also assumed responsibility for providing medical services to Native Americans and federal prisoners and, regrettably, it also oversaw shameful medical experiments in Tuskegee, Alabama, and in Guatemala.

From the 1930s onward, the role of the Surgeon General became more and more public. In 1964, Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry took the campaign against tobacco use to the American public with the publication of Smoking and Health. This led in due course to major changes in the way cigarettes were advertised and eventually to tobacco regulation.

Prior to 1968, the Surgeon General was the head of the USPHS and all administrative, program, and financial responsibilities ran through this office, with the Surgeon General directly reporting to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). Following a departmental reorganization that year, the USPHS’s responsibilities were delegated to HEW’s Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH) and the Surgeon General became a principal deputy and advisor to the ASH. In 1987, the Office of the Surgeon General was reestablished and the Surgeon General again became responsible for managing the Commissioned Corps.

Over the past 40 years, the Surgeon General has increasingly become the public face of health for the country. In the 1980s, Dr. C. Everett Koop made information about AIDS available to every American—in the form of an unprecedented direct mail campaign—as he sought to frame the disease as a public health threat demanding public health measures. In recent years, the Surgeons General have sought to publicize and address disparities in health care and outcomes among the nation’s increasingly diverse population. As the Commissioned Corps itself has become more diverse, so too have those holding the position of Surgeon General, with the appointment of the first female, African American, and Hispanic Surgeons General.

The New York Academy of Medicine was honored to host four illustrious former U.S. Surgeons General, Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Antonia Novello, and Richard Carmona, in conversation with Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall on October 15. They shared their reflections on what it takes to ensure the health of the nation. Above they are exploring with Curator Anne Garner our current exhibition on public health, “Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis,” co-curated with the Museum of the City of New York, on view through April 2019.

References:
Parascandola, John. “Public Health Service,” in A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, ed. George Thomas Kurian (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 487–93.
Quarantine sketches : glimpses of America’s threshold. New York: Maltine Co., 1903.
 “The Reports of the Surgeon General,” Profiles in Science, https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/NN/, accessed September 14, 2018.

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The First Yellow Fever Pandemic: Slavery and Its Consequences

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

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

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

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

1-Bulama

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

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

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

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

A Refutation_internetarchive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Marshal anatomy course

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

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

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

painting of David Hosack

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

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

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

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

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

 

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis Opens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Diphtheria pamphlets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no longer handicapped_watermarked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer Reading Suggestions – Part II

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

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

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

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Cities and Sickness

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

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

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.