October 19, 2017

MOMS 2017

Macey Flood studies medical pluralism in the 19th- and 20th-century present-day United States, focusing on legibility, legitimacy, and categories of ethnicity and religion in regular, irregular, and Native medical practices and practitioners.  Her broader interests and scholarly commitments include traditions of heterodox medicine in the United States, the relationship of medicine to place, to religion, and the body.

     Nearly a month ago, I drove north to the University of Winnipeg to present a paper at the sixth bi-annual Manitoba-Northern Ontario-Minnesota-Saskatchewan (MOMS) History of Medicine conference.  Over the course of two days, graduate students and senior scholars from Canada and a few from the United States presented papers on topics ranging from pedagogical practices for the history of nursing to a historical study on photographs of séance mediums in trance states produced in the 1920s.  The conference is relatively small with a sense of cohesive scholarly community.  This year, all panels ran over the course of two days in the same room.  For graduate students, MOMS is a good place to test out new and/or interdisciplinary work among established academics doing excellent work who will learn your name, ask useful questions, and remember you in future settings.

     Several papers in particular highlighted dominant themes from the conference, which included the persistent health effects of historical political, economic, and cultural violences upon the bodies of Indigenous/Aboriginal and other marginalized groups.  Scholars speaking to this theme made clear the stakes – and power - of doing work on histories of health and health care.  In the conference’s opening presentation, economist Ian Hudson (University of Manitoba) asked whether health inequities produced by neoliberal economic policies in the United States could produce heritable changes in gene expression.  This concept of a literal embodiment of ill health through historical processes was also addressed in Mary Jane McCallum’s (University of Winnipeg) paper on the uses of ‘history’ in the Brian Sinclair inquest.  Brian Sinclair was an Aboriginal man who died in a Winnipeg hospital waiting room from a bladder infection after waiting for thirty-four hours without being seen.  McCallum, a historian, now works with physicians, nurses, social scientists, and others who coalesced around Sinclair’s death and the subsequent inquest to address anti-indigenous racism within healthcare in Canada.  McCallum stressed the importance that her historical perspective held within the work group  in establishing that Sinclair’s death was not a single incident of failed hospital triage but instead part of a broader pattern of systemic racism within Canadian healthcare.  The roots of anti-Indigenous racism within, indeed through, the development of the Canadian hospital system was elegantly demonstrated by Maureen Lux (Brock University) in Lux’s keynote address.  Jessica Kolopenuk, graduate candidate at the University of Victoria, brought the conversation full circle to Ian Hudson’s opening points on the transgenerational health effects of federal policies in the bodies of the marginalized.  If, as Lux had also argued, white Canadian medical systems segregated Aboriginal people in the process of creating a national health system, those animating ideas of biological racism persist into the present in scientific studies on the high incidence of tuberculosis in certain Aboriginal communities that favor biologically-based analyses over studies on social or political factors.

     There were many other papers that deserve more space and analysis than I have given here.  I was surprised and delighted by the quality, breadth, and passion of those who brought their work forward at MOMS this year.  If the health effects of colonialism are of particular interest to me, there was certainly something there for everyone – 18th-century military medicine, séance mediums in the 1920s, feminist reproductive health in the 1970s.  In two years, I hope to see you there!

October 18, 2017

Archive Visit: The Joseph Rotblat Papers

Welcome to the HSTM Blog, 2017 edition! I'm Will Vogel, the 2017-2018 Communications Coordinator, and will be serving as editor for the blog this year.

     And now for something somewhat different. This blog had a number of incisive posts in 2015, but has since fallen into hiatus. As part of an effort to reverse this, I’m penning this post as one less ‘academic’ in tone than the excellent pieces which has appeared thus far. Rather than writing a well-researched and argued analysis (mental energy that could go to dissertation writing!), I’ll be discussing my recent research trip to the UK. I invite you to write similar posts about your own lived experiences as an academic in HSTM (research, teaching, and conference experiences seem like excellent candidates), or indeed posts in the vein of those which have appeared before, discussing elements of your work.
     My trip, allowed by the generous support of the Institute for Global Studies' Dunn Peace Research Scholarship, took me to the Churchill Archives Center, at Cambridge University. The Churchill Center serves as a broadly construed ‘life and times’ archive for Winston Churchill, housing his papers, as well as those of a number of other military, governmental, and scientific figures from (generally) the 20th century. The general focus of this collection is on British figures, but I would imagine that it would be useful for any number of projects outside of British history per se (as mine is). Reflecting the value of its collections, the Center was placed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register in 2015.

The Churchill Center (WinstonChurchill.org)

     The Archives were an excellent environment for research, with well-written finding aids (available in electronic and paper form), and a well-organized if formalized system for requesting folders of documents. Photography is permitted, provided one pays a fee of £1 each day one takes photographs. The archives are well-staffed, and all of the staff were extremely helpful and friendly. As one might expect for an institution of this sort, it has a well-maintained web presence, with electronic finding aids on the Janus server, a useful website, and (of course), an oft-updated Twitter feed.
     The actual subject of my visit was the Joseph Rotblat collection. Rotblat was a fascinating figure, born in 1908 in Warsaw (then in the Russian Empire), who worked as an electrician before becoming a nuclear physicist in the 1930s. He left Poland shortly before the Second World War broke out, but lost his wife, who was trapped by the German invasion and died in a concentration camp. Having independently conceived of the weapons potential of a fission chain reaction, he joined British nuclear bomb research, and worked on the Manhattan project, before leaving in 1944 when he concluded that the threat of a German bomb was unlikely to materialize. Horrified by the offensive use of the bomb research, he shifted fields into medical physics, which at the time cost him a Royal Society membership. As a researcher on the biological effects of radiation, he became one of the founders of the Pugwash conferences in 1957. Named after the Canadian resort town in which the first meeting took place, these conferences enlisted international groups of scientists to discuss problems relating to the general theme of disarmament, such as the threat of nuclear fallout. Rotblat served as a central figure in the Pugwash movement for the remainder of his career, literally organizing it from his home in the early 1960s. For this work, he shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize with the Pugwash organization. He died in 2005, having lived through two world wars, the entire history of the Soviet Union, and the first seven decades of the nuclear age.

Joseph Rotblat (The Guardian)

     Due to his central involvement in the Pugwash movement, Rotblat’s papers include substantial administrative records for the movement. My visit was primarily to view these, and they proved to be a goldmine. I was primarily interested in Pugwash’s activities in opposition to chemical and biological weapons, which included a fascinating project in the 1960s to duplicate (presumed) secret military work on technology to rapidly detect pathogenic airborne microbes. These papers will help immensely with my dissertation work. The broader picture of the organization which emerged from the archive was also fascinating, as a network of informal Cold War diplomacy with impacts on the Partial Test Ban Treaty and early Vietnam War negotiations. This picture fits with Matthew Evangelista’s discussion of Pugwash and other transnational organizations in his 1999 book Unarmed Forces, but the new availability of Rotblat’s papers (which were only opened to the public a few years ago) suggest the possibility for new scholarship on the Pugwash movement and its role in the Cold War. There were also the fun little tidbits one finds in any good archive. For instance, Bertrand Russell (at the time the titular leader of the Pugwash movement), was apparently sympathetic to Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.

Copyright Churchill Archives Center. Not a novel finding, but new to me!

     While I didn’t get to any other archives while in the UK, I did get a chance to visit Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyards one weekend. Between that and previous visits to Baltimore and Boston this summer, my dissertation research has allowed a surprising amount of naval history tourism! All good things must come to an end, however: my next two trips will be to Madison, WI and Atlanta, neither of which are noted for their historic ships.

Ex-USS Constellation (1854), Baltimore Harbor. Author's photo.
USS Constitution (1797), Boston Harbor. Author's photo.
HMS Victory (1765), Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Author's photo.

June 3, 2015

A New View, from Somewhere

This week is a second post from John Heydinger, who had previously written about Ludwik Fleck. Here, he interprets the "Anthropocene" through a lens provided by Donna Haraway. Check it out!

April 8, 2015

Designing Projects for the Digital Generation: The History of Biology Thumbnails Project

Emmie Miller, of Colorado, is a second-year graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Although she loves 20th/21st century zebrafish, she actually studies the relationship between humans and non-human animals in the early modern period. In December, she published a blog post at Shells and Pebbles entitled, "Dissecting the 'Chain of Creation': Edward Tyson and Anatomical Natural History," which she also discussed at an 2014 HSS Meeting session. Follow her on Twitter.

One difficult thing about being an instructor today is the concern that students, distracted by their buzzing phones and binging Facebook apps, don’t care to learn because they’re preoccupied with what’s trending. In addition to being sidetracked by their interpersonal relationships, higher priority classes, and other things of real significance, they are inundated with diverting alerts from their handheld media. This deserves to be reframed – our students now learn in different ways. We as instructors should realize that every time they text in class on their smartphone, they are playing right into our hands, but only if we are willing to incorporate into our teaching strategies the technology that so thoroughly captures their attention.

April 2, 2015

Music in the Scientific Revolution

Adam Fix is a second-year graduate student here at the University of Minnesota. He studies the history of philosophy, mathematics, and the physical sciences during the early modern period. His post this week is a wonderful intersection of these topics: music. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adam plays music himself. Check out some of his pieces here!

March 24, 2015

Fleck's Multiple Collectives

This week's post comes from a first-year graduate student, John Heydinger, who, after a earning his B.A. in history, briefly became a field and conservation biologist working in South Africa. He has since returned to our own thought collective of the history of science, and plans to work on the relationship between the sciences and the humanities in higher education. His post is about Ludwik Fleck, whose book we read in a seminar about theories in/of history, led by Susan Jones.

Ludwik Fleck’s Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact is a text both rich in meaning and illuminating in application for the budding historian of science; it seems to grow in strength with increasing familiarity. Amongst our graduate student community Fleck provides fodder for conversations both broad and deep. Echoing one such discussion I wanted to recapitulate a difficulty found in Fleck’s work, along with a tentative hypothesis for how this difficulty in applying Fleck’s philosophy to the history of science might be overcome.

March 12, 2015

A Matter of Meat and Democracy: A Crisis in Veterinary Public Health

Jeannette Vaught is a former equine veterinary technician and current PhD Candidate at the University of Texas. Her dissertation, "Science, Animals, and Profit-Making in the American Rodeo Arena," documents the scientific enhancement and redefinition of rodeo animals over the second half of the twentieth century, and maps how professional rodeo navigates the tensions between tradition and modernity through a strategic use of animals. Susan D. Jones is a member of the dissertation committee. This post derives from her presentation at the September 2014 World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine Congress in London, and provides a veterinary perspective of the effects of deregulation on the meat animal industry in the 1980s based on archival materials that did not make it into the dissertation. Follow her on Twitter: @JeannetteVaught.

In September 1985, veterinarian and long-time United States Department of Agriculture meat inspector Carl Telleen penned a letter to his former USDA colleagues:  “To my former fellow Review Officers,” he began, “It has been a most painful experience for all of us but one which we had to suffer in order to maintain our own integrity as well as to be able to expose the evils in government.” [1] The painful experience to which he is referring is a four-year battle between Telleen, the USDA, and the conglomerate of companies making up the lion’s share of the modern American meatpacking industry. In 1981, after serving for 20 years as a meat inspector, Telleen charged the USDA with instituting meat inspection policies that broke longstanding food safety laws and endangered the public. To his view, these changes were made for commercial and political reasons at the expense of public health. By 1985, Telleen’s whistleblowing campaign, steeped in acrimony and intimidation, had brought him national notoriety and made him a polarizing figure in the agricultural veterinary world. When the USDA deregulated its inspection policies, he was horrified that the public would consume contaminated meat, and lost faith in the government’s role in protecting citizens from harm. To Telleen, the principles of American democracy were centered on healthy meat, and both were at risk.