Category Archives: History of Medicine

Rubenstein Library 2016-2017 Travel Grant Award Winners

The Rubenstein Library’s three research center annually award travel grants to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars through a competitive application process. Congratulations to this year’s recipients, we look forward to working with all of you!

Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia.”

Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “Burgeoning zine aesthetics in the 1980SLA2053s through the censored Conference Diary from the controversial Barnard Sex Conference (1982).”

Kirsten Leng, assistant professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Breaking Up the Truth with Laughter: A Critical History of Feminism, Comedy, and Humor.

Linda Lumsden, associate professor, School of Journalism, University of Arizona, The Ms. Makeover:  The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine.

Mary-Margaret Mahoney and Danielle Dumaine, Ph.D. candidates, history, University of Connecticut, for a documentary film, Hunting W.I.T.C.H.: Feminist Archives and the Politics of Representation (1968-1979, and present).

Jason McBride, independent scholar, for the first, comprehensive and authorized biography of Kathy Acker.

Kristen Proehl, assistant professor, English, SUNY-Brockport, Queer Friendship in Young Adult Literature, 1850-Present.

Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism.

History of Medicine Collections –

Cecilio Cooper, PhD candidate in African American Studies, Northwestern University, for dissertation research on “Phantom Limbs, Fugitive Flesh: Slavery + Colonial Dissection.”

Sara Kern, PhD candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State University, for dissertation work on “Measuring Bodies, Defining Health: Medicine, Statistics, and Civil War Legacy in the Nineteenth-Century America.”

Professor Kim Nielsen, Disability Studies & History, University of Toledo, for research on her book, The Doctress and the Horsewhip, a biography of Dr. Anna B. Ott (1819-1893).

 

John Hope Franklin Research Center –

Beatrice Adams, Rutgers University – Why African Americans remained in the American South during the Second Great Migration.

Erik McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Garveyism in the Diasporic Midwest: The American Heartland and Global Black Freedom, 1920Come and Join us Brothers1-1980

Gretchen Henderson, Georgetown University – A narrative and libretto for an opera rooted in African American slavery and history entitled CRAFTING THE BONDS

Maria Montalvo, Rice University – All Could Be Sold: Making and Selling Enslaved People in the Antebellum South (1813-1865)

Nick Witham, University College London, Institute of the Americas – “The Popular Historians: American Historical Writing and the Politics of the Past, 1945-present”

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History –

FOARE Fellowship for Outdoor Advertising Research:

Dr. Francisco Mesquita, Fernando Pessoa University, Portugal, “Billboard Graphic Production and Design Analysis”

John Furr Fellowship for JWT Research:

Jeremiah Favara, University of Oregon, “An Army of Some: Recruiting for Difference and Diversity in the U.S. Military”

 Alvin Achenbaum Travel Grants:

Faculty:

Megan Elias, Borough of Manhattan Community College, “Be His Guest: Conrad Hilton and the Birth of the Hospitality Industry”

Sarah Elvins, Department of History, University of Manitoba, “Advertising, Processed Foods, and the Changing Notions of Skill in American Home Baking, 1940-1990”

Students:

Alison Feser, Anthropology, University of Chicago, “After Analog: Photochemical Life in Rochester, New York”

Spring Greeney, Environmental History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Line Dry: And Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1841-1992”

Elizabeth Castaldo Lunden, Media Studies – Center for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University, “Oscar’s Red Carpet: Celebrity Endorsements from Local to Global (A Media History)”

Eric Martell, History, State University of New York – Albany, “Kodak Advertising in the U.S. and Latin America, 1920-1960”

Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship:

Dr. Jennifer Welsh, Lindenwood University-Belleville – Research on the presentation of female saints in German Catholic prayers and devotional works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Photographic Research on Obstetric and Gynecological Instruments

Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection..
Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection.

With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I traveled to Duke University to view and photograph historical obstetric and gynecological tools housed in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  There I viewed various artifact collections donated by practicing regional doctors, including the L. M. Draper Collection, the George D. & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection, and several anonymous collections.  I also viewed anatomical lift-the-flap guide books, lift-the-flap anatomical fugitive sheets and the Trent Collection of Ivory Anatomical Manikins, all of which were used to teach medical procedures, including delivery.

Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience.  I treated it like a short artist residency.  I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library.  Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides.  It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents.  For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time.  In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested.  I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way.  I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.

Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.
Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.

My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today.  I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology.  While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed.  Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section.  Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women.  I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child.  I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today.  It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.

My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses.  Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today.  The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows.  Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides.  I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.

Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island.  Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.

Nkisi Nkondi in the History of Medicine Collections

As the Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections, I have the opportunity to work with closely with a number of rare books, manuscripts and artifacts spanning hundreds of years and several continents. Because I’m here for a brief period of time, I’ve had to immerse myself in the materials in order to become familiar with them. While learning about the breadth and depth of the collections, one item in particular stood out to me: the nkisi nkondi figure in the History of Medicine artifacts collection.

photograph of nkisin kondi sculpture

Nkisi nkondi figures come from the Kongo people, a Bantu ethnic group located in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nkisi are spirits or objects that spirits inhabit, and nkondi are an aggressive subclass of nkisi that are used to punish wrongdoing and enforce oaths.

The figures were created collaboratively between sculptors and spiritual specialists called nganga. The wooden figure would be carved by the sculptor, and they could range in size from less than a foot tall, like the figure in the Trent Collection, to lifesize. The sculptor would create a cavity in the head or stomach, which then would be packed with materials chosen for their spiritual significance, such as dirt from an ancestor’s grave. The cavity would then be covered by a mirror or glass, which was believed to allow the spirit to peer through into our world. The figures were often created at the edge of a village because it was the borders and entrances that needed to be protected from outside harm.

The nails in the figure indicate the number of times the spirit was invoked. The spirit would then hunt down wrongdoers, such as thieves or an oath breaker. Nkisi nkondi were used publicly by entire villages and tribal leaders and were intended to protect the innocent. Use by an individual for private gain was considered to be witchcraft.

Although nkisi nkondi figures have been made since at least the sixteenth century, the nailed figures which are predominantly found in western collections were most likely made in the northern region of the Kongo cultural area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the availability of nails, nganga would invoke the spirit through other means such as banging two figures together.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonizers from Belgium, France, and Portugal viewed the figures as weapons of resistance. Missionaries removed them through coercion, or force if necessary, in an effort to remove what was seen as their pagan influence over villagers. Most figures found in western collections were removed during this time period. Because of this history, provenance of the figures can prove to be elusive. Today, the beliefs that underlie these figures still exist, but they no longer take these elaborate forms.

exhibit case with items including nkisi nkondi sculpture

The nkisi nkondi figure is currently on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room as part of an exhibit celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the collection’s arrival at Duke University, which will be up through the end of June.

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections

Trent Lecture on the Brooklyn Interns Hazing Episodes: March 7th

Date: Monday, March 7, 2016
Time: 5:30 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919) 684-8549

Dr. Ed Halperin, M.D., M.A.Please join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Dr. Ed Halperin, M.D., M.A., will present “This is a Christian institution and we will tolerate no Jews here”:  The Brooklyn Interns Hazing Episodes.

Anti-semitism in U.S. medical education rarely flared into acts of violence, except in Brooklyn. Presenting the results of recently completed research, Dr. Halperin will describe the assaults on the Jewish interns of Kings County Hospital in 1916 and 1927 and the implications of these assaults for the contemporary debate on immigration and higher education.

Dr. Halperin is Chancellor  and Chief Executive Officer at New York Medical College and Professor of Radiation Oncology, Pediatrics, and History as well as Provost for Biomedical Affairs at Touro College.

This event is open to the public.

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections.

New Exhibit! Malignant Fever: Benjamin Rush and the 1793 Epidemic in Philadelphia

Please visit our new exhibition Malignant Fever: Benjamin Rush and the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia, curated by Mandy Cooper, PhD candidate in Duke University’s History Department. The exhibition will be on display in the Mary Duke Biddle Room through March 11, 2016.

This exhibit highlights the effects of epidemic diseases on society by examining one of the most famous outbreaks in U.S. history – the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Drawing chiefly on letters written by Dr. Benjamin Rush, an eighteenth-century physician and U.S. Founding Father, to his wife Julia Stockton Rush, the exhibit examines the timeline of the outbreak, early responses, stages and symptoms, and the “cure” for yellow fever that Rush developed. Finally, the exhibit looks at the anatomy of an epidemic, focusing on the social and psychological effects exemplified by Rush’s emotion-filled letters, as well as stories that emphasize the fear, panic, and mental anguish that accompany epidemic disease outbreaks even today.

Coinciding with this exhibition is a new digital collection of the Benjamin and Julia Stockton Rush papers held by the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library.  We encourage you to visit the exhibition and check out the new digital collection as well.

A gallery talk led by Mandy Cooper will be held on Friday, February 26, at 2 pm in the Mary Duke Biddle Room. All are welcome to attend. Light refreshments will be served.

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections

Now Accepting 2016-2017 Travel Grant Applications!

Don't worry, we won't make you take the bus.
Don’t worry, we won’t make you take the bus.

Researchers! The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2016-2017 travel grants.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture,  the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, and the History of Medicine Collections will each award up to $1,000 per recipient to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 29, 2016. Recipients will be announced in March 2016.

 

Boston Apple Pudding (1823) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen


IMG_3277The Cook’s Oracle
was a bestseller when it was first published in 1817. Its author, William Kitchiner (1775-1827), was a household name in England at the time, and was known for being an atypical host to his dinner guests – he prepared the food rather than his staff and even did the cleaning up as well. In addition to being an avid cook and successful cookbook author, Kitchiner was also an optician and inventor of telescopes, which perhaps explains why this particular cookbook is in the History of Medicine Collections here at Duke.

In the United Kingdom, the origin of the potato chip is attributed to Kitchiner, with The Cook’s Oracle including the earliest known recipe. The recipe, “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings,” instructs readers to “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.”

Other notable entries include eleven recipes for ketchup – including two types each for walnut, mushroom, and tomato ketchups – and the recipe for wow-wow sauce, which is parodied (though retains the same name) in the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.  [Ed. note: Earlier this year, one of our cooks made Kitchiner’s Shin of Beef Stewed with Wow Wow sauce, complete with mushroom ketchup.]

IMG_3279

Looking through our copy of The Cook’s Oracle, I was drawn to the recipe for Boston Apple Pudding. It seemed like a simple recipe, and I was curious to know what apple pudding would be like.

photo 1

 

As I was gathering ingredients, some things were unclear. How does one determine what constitutes “one dozen and a half good Apples”? I ended up buying a five pound bag of apples and peeling all of them with the help of a friend.

photo 2

photo 3The apples actually cooked down pretty quickly – it probably took less than thirty minutes in total. I didn’t know what “moist sugar” is, but it turns out it is actually a thing. Because we already had brown sugar, that’s what I used to sweeten the apples.

photo 4

Next, it was time to strain the apples through a hair sieve. You can see a hair sieve at the British Museum here – but as it turns out, I don’t have one! We first tried to pass the apples through a fine-mesh sieve, to no success. Next we went out and bought some cheesecloth to try and pass it through that. Again, no luck! Finally, I used my colander to press the apples through.

photo 5

photo 6We mixed in the butter, eggs, and lemon zest. For the crust, I used a sheet of puff pastry, but since puff pastry is square, I used some of the other sheet of puff pastry to fill in the missing pieces. As you can see below, it ended up looking like a giant flower!photo 7

The recipe only says to bake for 30 minutes, so this part required a little finagling. First, I set the oven to 350 degrees and baked for 30 minutes, but the pudding didn’t seem to be setting up, so I added on another ten minutes. It was really unclear what the final product would be like, but even after an additional ten minutes, it still didn’t seem quite right. At this point, I turned off the oven, propped the door open with a large slotted spoon, and left it for a final fifteen minutes. At this point, I was worried about burning the crust, so I accepted the pie as is.

photo 8

The final pudding was really interesting. It wasn’t quite what I think of as a pudding, but it definitely wasn’t a pie either. The crust added a nice variety to the texture, and the apples had a really robust flavor – cooking them with the lemon peel really made a difference.

To see this recipe and others in The Cook’s Oracle, the book can be found in our catalog here.

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, History of Medicine Collections Intern

 

 

Frederik Ruysch’s Anatomical Art

Anatomical specimens emerged as an art form near the end of the seventeenth century. Although they may seem morbid today, at the time of creation, they were viewed as striking a balance between the scientific and the artistic. They served to educate people on human anatomy as well as to remind them of the fleeting nature of life.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.
Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

One of the more notable creators of anatomical art is Frederik Ruysch, a Dutch botanist and anatomist who lived from 1638 to 1731—an impressive 93 years in a time when many died young. A capable researcher, Ruysch was the first to describe bronchial blood vessels, the vascular plexus of the heart, and the valves of the lymphatics. However, his real interest lay in anatomical preparations, and he has been described by a recent biographer as “probably the most skilled and knowledgeable preparator in the history of anatomy” (Gould, p. 20). Ruysch served as the chief instructor to midwives and the “legal doctor” to the court of Amsterdam. Through these positions, he had easy (and legal) access to the bodies of stillborns and dead babies.

The preparations were initially created to use in his classes, but they eventually gained an interest from the public. To showcase his vast collection (he created more than 2,000 from 1665 to 1717 alone), he opened his own cabinet of curiosities to the public, which for many marked the first time they were able to see human internal organs. The collection was also noteworthy because of the lengths to which Ruysch went in an effort to make the specimens appear more natural. For example, embalmed children were clothed or held bouquets of preserved flowers. In 1717, Peter the Great, who was an admirer of Ruysch, purchased the entire cabinet of curiosities for 30,000 guilders. The collection was then shipped to St. Petersburg, and along with the cabinet of curiosities formed by Albertus Seba, they became the core of the Kunstkammer—the Academy of Sciences of Russia’s first public museum.

Although a number of Ruysch’s wet preparations still exist today (a fact which he would find unsurprising), none of his dry specimens have been located. He used fetal skeletons and other body parts to create multi-specimen scenes. These scenes served as the centerpieces for each of the literal cabinets within the rooms of his museum. As Gould points out, these tableaux were focused on allegorical themes such as death and the transience of life. The small skeletons are decorated with symbols of death and short life: mayflies rest in hands, skulls weep into handkerchiefs made of mesentery, and snakes made of intestine wine their way through bones. Today, these still-life scenes exist for us only through second-hand descriptions and, fortunately, through a number of engravings.

Fortunately for those interested in seeing these illustrations up close, the History of Medicine Collections has two volumes from the multi-volume Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica. On October 29, from 2-4 pm, they will be on display as part of Screamfest in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room.

Recommended Reading:

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections.

Screamfest III: The Cutening

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015
Time: 2:00-4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Contact: Amy McDonald, amy.mcdonald@duke.edu

Y’all, we hear you. The semester is getting more and more intense and sometimes Duke is just so . . . gothic, you know? Sometimes you just need to eat some free candy and look at cute things. And what better time to do that than in celebration of that traditionally cute holiday, Halloween?

Your cuddly Rubenstein librarians would like to invite you to visit us for Screamfest III, an open house featuring creepy ADORABLE things from our collections.

Halloween Postcard
Like this postcard of these sweet black kitty-cats, bringing you Halloween joys in their happy hot air pumpkins.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

Or this illustration of these precious babies from our History of Medicine Collection’s Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica by Frederik Ruysch. Yes, fine, they’re skeleton babies, and they’re standing on a pile of human organs, but they’re totally listening to a song by The Wiggles.

Ghost at the Library. From the 1984 Chanticleer.

You can also page through the 1984 Chanticleer to view the photos of this friendly library ghost, who just wants to bring you fuzzy slippers so you can study comfortably.

Demon Miniature from Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

And sure, scourge and sword-wielding demons are very scary when they’re life-sized. But swing by our open house and you’ll be able to bravely make kissy-faces at this little dude (paperclip for scale) from the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

In fact, we promise that there will be so much cuteness (and candy) that, well, you might die. See you there!

Promising Cures for Hearing Loss in Early 20th Century America

Is there damage to be done from meddling with the ear or attempting any cure for deafness?

“Now, right here,” says T.Page, “stop and think a moment…If your stove smoked constantly, day after day, you would not place a poultice around the stove pipe, would you? You would clean out the flue or chimney, wouldn’t you?” Well, would you? Well, the same should go for fixing deafness, according to Page in his 1891 pamphlet: “Clean out the obstruction inside of your head, and you hear again as well as ever.” Why should one pay for a high-priced aurist (a specialist of the ear), when an easy remedy promises to do the same, at half the cost, and with minimal pain?

DeafnessCure_Header

Indeed, what motivated people with hearing loss to select amongst an abundance of deafness cures or make plans to visit the aurist? My monograph, tentatively titled Deafness Misery, Hearing Happiness: Fakes and Fads in Deafness Cures, 1850-1950, examines these motivations, exploring how the lines between reputable medical treatment and “quack cure” were frequently negotiated as newer surgical procedures and technologies redefined, if not reflected, cultural expectations of “normalcy.” As it was difficult to distinguish between the “quack with a scheme” and the “visionary with a theory” promising a permanent cure for hearing loss, deaf persons were portrayed as particularly vulnerable to the clutches of fraud, since once “cured,” they were no longer condemned to the “miserable,” “isolating” state of deafness.

In June, I visited the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Duke University, a trip made possible thanks to the library’s generous History of Medicine Travel Grant. My research had two aims. First, to examine through the advertising collection in both the History of Medicine collections and the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History to investigate the cultural history of American advertisements for deafness cures and hearing aids. This research, which will be incorporated into one of my book chapters, “Those Instinctive, Invisible, Improved Aids,” examines how these advertisements embodied the rhetoric of “curability” and what disability scholars refer as “passing”—the masking of disability or infirmity to appear as “normal”—as marketing and sales techniques. Advertisements not only reveal the kinds of technological options available for deafened persons, but enable us to investigate the ways in which deafness was constructed as a stigma and how goods for hearing loss was marketed and sold. Indeed, many adverts propagated the refrain “Deafness is Misery,” addressing the despair and desperation deaf people felt over failed medical therapeutics. They also justified the exorbitant price of goods by connecting to the marvels of electricity and communication.

Secondly, I hoped to uncover (hidden) stories of deaf persons or persons with (temporary) hearing loss, and whether they attempted any treatment(s) for deafness. This was a more challenging task, but a good place to start was the collection of recipe books/receipt books in the History of Medicine collection. Some of these books were written by physicians and surgeons, who kept tally of the treatments they advised to their patients. For instance, I came across the receipt book of John Kearsley Mitchell (1793-1858), which lists a treatment for deafness:

DeafnessCure
“If deficy [sic] of cerumen – use salt dropped into ear or place on coarse wool some of Rx __ terebinth [an aromatic used to interrupt condition by stimulating senses and dissolve wax] gtt 10. [10 drops]. Ol olio [to oil in Italian] [symbol for fluid ounce].”
By the way, I had a difficult time comprehending Mitchell’s writing—so I did what any historian fluent in social media would do: I asked my twitter followers to help me decipher the text!

Another receipt book, this time belonging to Dr. William R. Blakeslee, a civil war surgeon, contains a list of prescriptions the surgeon recommended while stationed at Camp Muhlenburg with the 48th Regiment of the Pennsylvania State Militia (near Scranton) during August 1863. Blakeslee provides details for various soldiers’ treatment(s) and his prescribed remedy, but in the case of Private William Workeizer (?) who suffered from otitis, there was no remedy listed. Does this mean that Blakeslee did not provide a treatment? Or that there was no remedy for otitis that would help the private?

There are also recipes for ear ailments written in home recipe and remedy books. One from 1896 copies a recipe from “Farmer’s Friend” for earache: “A remedy which never fails is a pinch of black pepper gathered up in a bit of cotton batting wet in sweet oil and inserted in the ear. It will give immediate relief.”

I came across many more examples, far too many for this blog post. I’d like to share one more, a letter that was out of place in the Eva Parris Letters (1892-1909) collection, written by a Virginia P. Dean of Montgomery, to G.H. Branaman of Kanas City, on July 10, 1909. In the short, carefully written letter, Dean thanks Branaman for his “cure,” which left her hearing “as good as it ever was,” and promises to recommend his method for anyone else afflicted with catarrhal deafness. This was a tremendous find for me: Branaman established the Branaman Medical Institute, which was notoriously exposed in the 1910s by the U.S. Post Office for its mail-order fraud and quackery in delivering deafness “cures.” His deafness treatment was a strange combination treatment, which made use of a special nostrum medicine and the use of his “electro-magnetic head cap.” Used properly, Branaman claimed his method could cure even the most incurable cases of deafness—or your money back! He was eventually charged with four counts of fraud and eventually put out of business.

Submitted by Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi (Brock University), 2015-16 History of Medicine Collections Travel Grant Awardee