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!

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