Category Archives: History of Medicine

A Melancholy Skeleton

Post contributed by Roseen Giles, PhD, Assistant Professor of Music and Curator, Duke University Musical Instrument Collections

A white ivory carving against a black velvet background. The carving shows a skeleton leaning against a pedestal with a clock. Symbols of worldly power and wealth--like a crown, a knight's helmet, and flags--are piled at his feet.
Memento Mori, approximately 1650, Rubenstein Library

There is a melancholy skeleton who lives in Duke University’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library. In truly every sense, he is a marvel. Meticulously carved from a single piece of ivory, this piece is crafted with astounding virtuosity by an artist who must have known as much about the science of anatomy as they did of the human condition. The composition dates from the middle of the seventeenth century but the name of the artist and the circumstances of its creation are unknown. It is perhaps fitting that the subject of this skeletal wonder is the greatest mystery of all: death. The remarkable details of the carving suggest that it is a vanitas or memento mori, a genre of artworks that remind us through a series of recognizable symbols of the certainty of death and the fleetingness of life. The skeleton itself represents a human life spent; despite our differences and all the things that mark us as unique individuals we will all one day die, leaving behind ossified remains that are, to the untrained eye, indistinguishable one of from the other.

At the skeleton’s feet are some of the most common symbols of the vanitas genre: traces of earthly pursuits such as warfare, monarchy and, perhaps most importantly, objects which point to the passing of time. This level of detail will be familiar to those acquainted with Hans Holbein the Younger’s masterpiece The Ambassadors (1533), a painting which contains quintessential examples of vanitas, among them a lute with a single broken string. Music and sound can in this case stand in as a metaphor for human life, one that is equally transient and decaying as soon as it is brought into existence. Tucked behind our skeleton’s crossed legs we can see a sickle or scythe, the symbol for the tyranny of time and of its god Saturn. The pedestal upon which he rests his arm contains the mechanical parts of a timepiece, innovative new inventions in the early modern period. The skeleton cradles his own head as he leans upon the ticking pedestal in a striking gesture that suggests both a contemplative and melancholy temperament. Perhaps most astonishing is the detail of the sash that surrounds but does not fully touch his back—as if it had been taken up with a momentary gust of wind that froze it in its movement.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a shovel. Its skull is tilted back and its mouth is open. There is a mountainous landscape behind it.
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 163

The stick upon which the skeleton rests his right hand does not seem particularly remarkable, but a comparison to two drawings from Andreas Vesalius’s (1514–64) revolutionary anatomical treatise De humani corporis fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body] (Basel, 1543) reveals that there may be more to this detail than meets the eye. In one of these illustrations—possibly attributable to a pupil of Titian, Joannes Stephanus of Calcar (c. 1488–1576)— a skeleton turns his head up towards the heavens (Figure 2). The positioning of his neck and torso suggests a depth of feeling: his head is turned slightly to one side as he looks up and he rests his weight on a staff very much like the one in the ivory vanitas. In Vesalius we can see that the skeleton is leaning not on a walking stick but on a shovel, which he will use to dig his own grave. In yet another of the images from the Fabrica we can see the same skeleton looking not upwards but down with one hand supporting his own head and the other resting on a skull—not his own, apparently— which is placed upon a pedestal very similar to the timepiece in our carving. The anatomical accuracy in both the drawings of the Fabrica and of our ivory skeleton is remarkable enough, but their gestural embodiment of human thought and emotion make these works truly astonishing historical witnesses. Their subjects point to the contradictions of lived existence: the unstable dichotomy between the physical and mental, between anatomy and emotion, between scientific and artistic knowledge.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a tomb. It rests its skull on its left hand and places its right hand on another skull.
Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 164

The unknown artist who made the vanitas skeleton in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections understood the rhetorical power of the ephemeral made material, when the truths of existence are brought into dialogue with the irrationality of consciousness. The very material they chose is telling of this. Ivory is rare and costly but lends itself well to the intricate detail of the piece’s low relief; it is not human bone but stands in for it in a vivid and arresting way. There are many things that such a piece can teach us about the history of medicine and, more specifically, seventeenth-century understandings of human anatomy and the physicality of emotions. But in reminding us that we will certainly die it can also tell us something about how to live. It represents, in short, a kind of contemplative interaction between the living and the dead, an interaction which suggests that the health of the human body is inextricably linked with our thoughts and emotions. In this way our melancholy skeleton can, even by representing death and transience, help us to understand and to improve the health and well-being of the living.

Library Internship Open House – April 7

Date: April 7, 2021
Time: 3:00 pm ET
Location: Zoom
Register Here

Interested in archival and library work? Come learn about the internships being offered at the Rubenstein Library in Fall of 2021!

On April 7th at 3:00pm Rubenstein Library staff will be hosting an information session and open house where you can learn about the Rubenstein Library, meet the intern supervisors, get details on the internship projects, and ask questions.

The following internships available at the Rubenstein Library in the coming academic year:

  • Consumer Reports Processing Intern: The Consumer Reports Processing Intern will primarily arrange and describe archival materials held in the Consumer Reports Archives collections, part of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing in the Rubenstein Library. The intern may also participate in outreach, programming, and instruction activities, depending on opportunities and the intern’s abilities and interests.
  • Josiah Charles Trent Internship: Working closely with the History of Medicine Collections, this position will provide support for public services and collection development activities of the History of Medicine.
  • Human Rights Archive, Marshall T. Meyer Intern: Working with RL Technical Services and Research Services staff, you will primarily provide support for research services, technical services, and collection development activities of the Human Rights Archive.
  • John Hope Franklin Research Center Internship: The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture seeks a reliable candidate to fill the position of Franklin Research Center intern. Working closely with the center’s director, you will provide support for public services and collection development activities. This internship provides an opportunity to work closely with the center’s collections which include rare books, personal papers and manuscripts, oral histories, audiovisual, and ephemeral materials that document the African and African Diaspora experience from the 16th century to present day.

Developing a Historical Biography and The Vital Importance of Black History Archives

On February 23, 2021 author Blake Hill-Saya and sponsor C. Eileen Watts-Welch discuss “Aaron McDuffie Moore, An African American Physician, Educator, and Founder of Durham’s Black Wall Street” (2020). Hill-Saya is a classical musician and creative writer. Watts-Welch was former Associate Dean of External Affairs in the School of Nursing at Duke University. The conversation was moderated by John B. Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University.

Aaron McDuffie Moore was one of the nation’s most influential African American leaders in the early 20th century and a co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC. Hill-Saya and Watts-Welch are both descendants of Moore and this project had deep personal connections. They share how their research in the NC Mutual archive (jointly held by Duke and North Carolina Central University) and the collections at Shaw University’s archives aided in illuminating his life and legacy.

This event was co-sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture and the History of Medicine Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.

 

 

‘Physician Heal Thyself!’: The Dr. Percy E. Ryberg Papers

Post contributed by Matthew Barrett, Graphic Artist and Historian at the Canadian War Museum

In December 1944, Flight Lieutenant Percy Edward Ryberg was sentenced to dismissal from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for renting a London apartment with two airmen accused of homosexuality. Ryberg, a medical officer, had earlier published a book, Health, Sex and Birth Control (1942), which included a chapter devoted to understanding homosexuality. The circumstances of the case left me with many questions about Ryberg. I was intrigued to learn that the Rubenstein Library held Dr. Ryberg’s papers.

comic book showing Dr. Ryberg
Graphic history of Ryberg’s court martial, drawn by the author

Thanks to a History of Medicine Collections travel grant from Duke, in September 2019, I was able to explore Ryberg’s history in far more depth. The visit was well worth the trip as his writings and correspondence offered unique insights into his professional career and private life.

Ryberg was born on February 26, 1908 in England but grew up in Argentina. After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1935, Ryberg worked as a physician in the city. Then in 1938 he earned a three-year fellowship to the Mayo Clinic. Following the outbreak of WWII, he joined the RCAF as a medical officer. He served overseas in England until his dismissal in December 1944.

After the end of his military service, Ryberg took up a position in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in June 1945. Within a few years he opened a private psychiatric practice in New York where he also received appointments to various clinics and hospitals. After a medical career that spanned seven decades, Ryberg died on December 16, 2001 at the age of ninety-three.

Despite having read thousands of pages from his diaries, letters, and memos, Ryberg remains something of an enigma to me. His papers reveal the complexity and contradictions of a private life that departed from the ideal he promoted. He wrote about sexual health and rejected judgmental morality but since teenage years he was deeply ambivalent about sex and tried to repress homoerotic feelings. He upheld marriage as the most important and profound experience in life, but privately called his own marriage a “convenience” that he said brought nothing but regret.[1] A constant theme in Ryberg’s life was the ambiguous definition of “normal.” It is a question that the doctor attempted to answer his entire career and was in part what led him to study medicine.

Page from graphic history
Graphic history (in style of Dr. Kildare comics) of Ryberg’s career, drawn by author

Ryberg sometimes acknowledged the contradictions at the center of his own life and professional identity. He complained that the public placed physicians and psychiatrists on pedestals only to express “spiteful triumph” when revered medical authorities are exposed for human faults and thereby “reveal their feet of clay.” He resented such sayings as “‘Practice what you preach!’ Or, ‘Physician, heal thyself!'” Ryberg argued that “the psychiatrist who is honest with himself and with others tries very hard to practice what he preaches, though he, like other people, may not always succeed.”[2]

I have only highlighted a few of the contradictions between his professional advocacy and private life, but his long career and contributions to psychiatry deserve far deeper analysis. I continue to work through his papers to better understand his life and experiences.

For more detail on Ryberg’s court martial and his medical career see my article, “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Doctor: Medical Attitudes toward Homosexuality and the Court Martial of Dr. Percy Ryberg,” recently published in the Canadian Journal of History. It is freely available for a limited time at: https://utpjournals.press/doi/full/10.3138/cjh-2019-0053

Matthew Barrett is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian War Museum. As an artist and historian his postdoc project explores graphic and illustrative storytelling as forms of historical interpretation and analysis.

[1] “Sample Column,” October 1954. Ryberg papers, box 3.

[2] Percy Ryberg, to Barbara Ryberg, 30 Oct 1953. Ryberg papers, box 2.

Oct. 7th ONLINE: Creativity and Mental Health

Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Time: 4:30-5:30 PM
Register: http://bit.ly/rl-styron (Registration required to receive Zoom link)

Please join the staff of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a free ONLINE event on creativity and mental health.

This event recognizes the 30th anniversary publication of William Styron’s Darkness Visible, a memoir of his depression and recovery. Along with discussing Styron’s work, our panelists will speak to the role of creativity, writing, and mental health.

Talks will be provided by:

  • James L.W. West III, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University, author of William Styron: A Life (1998)
  • Sneha Mantri, M.D., M.S., neurologist and Director of the Trent Center’s Medical Humanities Program
  • Megha Gupta, M.D. Candidate, Duke University School of Medicine
  • Sarah Hodges, M.D. Candidate, Duke University School of Medicine

OUCH! : Over a Century of Getting Vaccinated at Duke

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.

You may have noticed (and we really hope that you have) that campus life is a bit different in Fall 2020. We’re all wearing masks, washing our hands, and obsessively monitoring our symptoms. We’ve also spent at least a few minutes speculating on the many unknowns—including the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine and how it might be distributed to the Duke community. The Duke Compact asks students, staff, and faculty to pledge to “Get the flu shot and other required vaccinations by designated deadlines.” And that made us wonder about the history of vaccinations at Duke.

You can learn a lot about Duke history from the Duke Chronicle and its predecessor, the Trinity Chronicle. Luckily for us, issues of the newspaper from 1905 to 2000 have been digitized by Duke University Libraries and can be fairly easily searched. Searching the newspaper reveals that campus-wide vaccination efforts are nothing new to Duke. Here are a few of the examples we found.

We’ll start by going way, way back to a time before Duke was called Duke. In 1914, during the Trinity College days, a vaccine against typhoid fever was offered to students, faculty, and their families. In addition to announcing the availability of the vaccine, the Trinity Chronicle published information on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine as well as the number of deaths caused by typhoid in the state (about 1,200 each year). The article ends by noting that the administration “is anxious to see a large number of students avail themselves of the opportunity to obtain immunity from typhoid.”

The front page of the October 7, 1914 Trinity College. The headline to the relevant article reads "Typhoid Vaccine is Offered Trinity Men."
October 7, 1914 front page of the Trinity Chronicle with article discussing typhoid vaccine. Read article.

A little over a decade later, in 1928, students were asked to get a smallpox vaccine. The very short announcement suggests that vaccination is no big deal: “the nurse will give the vaccines in a few minutes, and it will all be over.” Although noting that there were no serious cases on campus, the article says that six students were confined and lists their names. (Reporting campus illnesses and including the names of the ill was a fairly common practice back then.)

Polio was perhaps one of the most troubling diseases in the mid-twentieth century and the widespread concern was justified. In 1948, the worst year for polio in North Carolina, 2,516 cases and 143 deaths were reported in the state. In October of 1950, a Duke undergraduate named Daniel Rathbun died after contracting polio and spending two weeks in an iron lung at Duke Hospital. When a polio vaccine became available in 1955, vaccination campaigns were held throughout the country. In October of 1956, the Duke Chronicle announced that student health would offer the vaccine to all under 45 years old. For students, the vaccine cost $3.00. The article discusses what is known about the relatively new vaccine, emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, and notes that previously most college students were required to get vaccinated for typhoid fever (as if to say “why should this be any different?”).

October 12, 1956 Duke Chronicle article announcing polio vaccinations on campus. The headline reads "For All Under 45: Student Health Will Offer Polio Vaccine."
October 12, 1956 Duke Chronicle article announcing polio vaccinations on campus. Read article.

Efforts to vaccinate campus continued through the rest of the 20th century. In the mid-1970s, an outbreak of swine flu in the United States led to a nationwide vaccination drive. In November of 1976, Duke announced that it had 5,000 shots available to students and staff. In the 1980s, measles was a cause for concern on campus. In March 1985, the Chronicle published a large notice to let unvaccinated students know that “YOU NEED TO BE VACCINATED NOW.” A few years later in January 1989, a statewide outbreak spread to campus and Duke quickly “issued more stringent vaccination requirements” for both students and staff. Soon after Duke issued the new requirements, all unvaccinated students and staff were excluded from campus for two weeks. Staff were told to stay home. Students were barred from campus housing and had their Duke cards deactivated.

Notice published in the March 15, 1985 Duke Chronicle directing students to get the measles vaccine. The ad begins: "Attention Upperclassmen and Graduate Students: Help Keep Measles Off Duke Campus."
Notice published in the March 15, 1985 Duke Chronicle directing students to get the measles vaccine.

Concerns around meningitis in 1987 brought similar calls for large scale vaccination after a small number of students were infected. The Chronicle reported that mandatory vaccination was possible and, in March of 1987, thousands of students received a vaccine in a single day as part of the administration’s goal to distribute 6,000 doses.

Article on the front page of the March 6, 1987 Chronicle. The headline reads "Thousands receive shots to stop meningitis threat." A black-and-white photo of students waiting in line for the vaccinations accompanies the article.
Coverage of the 1987 meningitis vaccine effort of campus. Read article.

There are many other examples of vaccination efforts in Duke’s history—the campus-wide distribution of the annual flu vaccine is one we’re all familiar with and, in 1999, students were encouraged to get a hepatitis B vaccine with a hip Chronicle advertisement that said “Hepatitis B is a very uncool thing” and the vaccine will keep you from “turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.”

If you’re interested in exploring this history more, try searching digitized issues of the Duke Chronicle or get in touch with our helpful staff. And, while we have your attention, make sure to get your flu vaccine this year!

New Online Exhibit! Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern for 2019-2020. Steph curated the digital and physical exhibit Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke.

Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

It can be easy to dismiss, but we are proud to announce that the new online exhibit Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke is here to showcase some of the people whose job it is to scientifically study those experiences.

When J.B. and Louisa Rhine came to Duke in 1930, there were no scientific protocols to confirm or reject the reality of clairvoyance or telepathy but that was soon to change. In starting the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke, the Rhines as well as their fellow researchers made it their jobs to apply the scientific method to these phenomena—with surprising results.

One of the most famous tests to come out of the laboratory is testing with Zener cards. Named after Dr. Karl Zener who helped develop them, Zener cards are simple: each is printed with one of five symbols: a circle, a cross, wavy lines, a square, and a star. A test is deceptively simple. One person holds the cards and another person sits opposite them. A screen separates them. The person with the cards gives them a shuffle and picks one at random and asks the other person if they can sense the symbol on the card.

Man and woman stand around Zener Card display
Undated Zener test, University Archives Photograph Collection.

This test alone required hundreds of tests to determine the probability of randomly guessing correctly and to determine how many guesses in a row were required to get a meaningful result. In addition, it was found the mood of the participant could have a profound effect on results. Researchers also had to ensure that there was no way for a participant to get information from a researcher’s expressions, body language, and that nothing like an accidental reflective surface could give insight to the participant about which card was being held up.

With the laboratory at Duke, there was a wealth of student volunteers to help in testing. Some photos of those students working with both J.B. Rhine and fellow researchers still exist at Duke as part of the University Archives Photograph Collection.

Aside from those, the main collection of Parapsychology Laboratory Records can also be found in the Rubenstein. There are over seven hundred boxes of research notes, paraphernalia, letters, publications, research supplies and more. In addition, the Rubenstein houses other researchers’ personal papers, like Louisa Rhine, J. Gaither Pratt, and William McDougall.

People from the Parapsychology Lab sitting on steps
Group photo from the University Archives Photograph Collection

After J.B. Rhine’s retirement in 1965, the laboratory was renamed the Institute of Parapsychology and moved to the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. Even later, in 2002, the laboratory had to move again to its current home, The Rhine Research Center.

The Rhine Research Center is a non-profit still operating in Durham. You can read more about them and their current projects on their website here. To this day, the research continues and there are still opportunities for students to be involved.

When our exhibit spaces reopen, we invite you to visit the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room which will host a physical version of the online exhibit. We would like to give special thanks to Barbara Ensrud, Sally Rhine Feather, and John Kruth from the Rhine Research Center for contributing their insight and several photograph’s from the Center’s own archive.

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern for 2019-2020. Steph curated the digital and physical exhibit Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke.

What’s Inside That Thing?: Scarificators and Medical Instrument Design

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian

There’s no denying it: artifacts are more fun when they come with sharp blades! And, in the History of Medicine Collections, we have a lot of sharp things! From giant amputation saws (for your less precise cutting needs) to more modern surgical kits, it’s a wonder we still have all of our fingers!

Image of large amputation saw.
Large amputation saw dating from the late 16th or early 17th century.

Not all of our blades are for such extreme procedures as amputations. We have many examples of smaller (but no less sharp) cutting tools intended for the once-popular procedure of bloodletting. Intended to balance the body’s humors and restore a patient to health, bloodletting was a standard medical procedure for centuries. Used to cure a range of ailments, bloodletting could involve draining a patient of large quantities of blood. Benjamin Rush, prominent physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, recommended bloodletting as a treatment during the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia. [The Benjamin and Julia Stockton Rush papers, which document Rush’s medical work, have been digitized and are available online.]

If, for some reason, you needed to bleed someone, you could choose from a number of tools in our collection like three-bladed fleams, lancets with tortoiseshell handles, and scarificators with as many as sixteen blades. We even have bleeding bowls to keep all of that blood from dripping onto your carpet.  [Disclaimer: As appealing as it may sound, the Rubenstein Library does not recommend bloodletting. We recommend getting your medical advice from a medical professional and not a library blog.]

image of bloodletting bowl.
Bleeding bowl.

The many-bladed scarificator is an interesting device and we have several examples in our collection. Designed to create multiple cuts simultaneously, the narrow and quickly-delivered punctures produced by the scarificator made it a (supposedly) less painful bloodletting technique.

Images of several scarificator examples.
Some scarificator examples from our collection!

To use the scarificator, a doctor would retract the blades and cock them into position using the lever seen in the images above. The device would then be placed blade-side down on a patient’s arm and the button used to release the blades into the skin. [For an excellent demonstration, see this video from the Mütter Museum.]

The frustrating thing about the scarificator is that the inner workings are hidden. What’s going on in that little brass box? As you might imagine, we prefer that people not pry apart our artifacts to find out. Luckily, other items in the History of Medicine Collections can fill in details about the design of medical instruments as well as the thought process behind the design.

A patent is one way to learn more and we hold a patent granted to George Tiemann in 1834 for a scarificator. The patent is an impressive document: it is signed by President Andrew Jackson and includes several hand drawn images of Tiemann’s device along with Tiemann’s very detailed description of how the device works and is constructed.

image of patent text
Front page of George Tiemann’s patent with Andrew Jackson’s signature.
image of patent text and illustrations
George Tiemann’s illustrations and description of his scarificator design.

This is only a quick look at George Tiemann’s patent and we encourage further research into scarificators and other medical instruments (we have over 800 and many have been described and photographed). Maybe, if you are handy type of person, you could try to recreate Tiemann’s design!

Announcing our 2020-2021 Travel Grant Recipients

1946 magazine advertisement for american airlinesThe Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020-2021 travel grants. Our research centers annually award travel grants to students, scholars, and independent researches through a competitive application process. We extend a warm congratulations to this year’s awardees. We look forward to meeting and working with you!

Please note that due to widespread travel restrictions, the dates for completing travel during this grant cycle have been extended through December 2021.

Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants):

Dena Aufseeser, Faculty, Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, “Family Labor, Care, and Deservingness in the US.”

Elvis Bakaitis, Adjunct Reference Librarian, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “The Queer Legacy of Dyke Zines.”

Emily Larned, Faculty, Art and Art History, University of Connecticut, “The Efemmera Reissue Project.”

Sarah Heying, Ph.D. candidate, University of Mississippi, “An Examination of the Relationship Between Reproductive Politics and Southern Lesbian Literature Since 1970.”

Susana Sepulveda, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Arizona, “Travesando Chicana Punk”, an examination of Chicana punk identity formations through the production of cultural texts.

Tiana Wilson, Ph.D. candidate, University of Texas at Austin, “No Freedom Without All of Us: Recovering the Lasting Legacy of the Third World Women’s Alliance.”

John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture:

Brandon Render, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, “Color-Blind University: Race and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century.”

Erin Runions, Faculty, Department of Religious Studies, Pomona College, “Religious Instruction of Slaves on Fallen Angels and Hell in the Antebellum Period.”

Katherine Burns, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Edinburgh, “‘Keep this Unwritten History:’ Mapping African American Family Histories in ‘Information Wanted’ Advertisements, 1880-1902.”

Leonne Hudson, Faculty, Department of History, Kent State University, “Black American in Mourning: Their Reactions to the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.”

Matthew Gordon, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Georgia, “American Memory and Martin Luther King, 1968-1983.”

Michael LeMahieu, Faculty, Department of English, “Post ‘54: The Reconstruction of Civil War Memory in American Literature after Brown v. Board.”

Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History:

Amanda Stafford, Ph.D. candidate, School of History, University of Leeds, “The Radical Press and the New Left in Georgia, 1968-1976.”

Caitlyn Parker, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies Department, Purdue University, “Lesbians Politically Organizing Against the Carceral State from 1970-2000.”

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

Andrew Wasserman, Independent Scholar, “The Public Art of Public Relations: Creating the New American City.”

Austin Porter, Faculty, Department of Art History and American Studies, Kenyon College, “Bankrolling Bombs: How Advertisers Helped Finance World War II.”

Elizabeth Zanoni, Faculty, Department of History, Old Dominion University, “Flight Fuel: A History of Airline Cuisine, 1945-1990.”

Hossain Shahriar, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Business Administration, School of Economics & Management, Lund University, “Gender Transgressive Advertising: A Multi-Sited Exploration of Fluid Gender Constructions in Market-Mediated Representations.”

Jesse Ritner, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, “Making Snow: Weather, Technology, and the Rise of the American Ski Industry, 1900-Present.”

Joseph Larnerd, Faculty, Department of Art History, Drexel University, “Undercut: Rich Cut Glass in Working-Class Life in the Gilded Age.”

Katherine Parkin, Faculty, Department of History and Anthropology, Monmouth University, “Asian Automakers in the United States, 1970-1990.”

Meg Jones, Faculty, Communication, Culture & Technology, Georgetown University, “Cookies: The Story of Digital Consent, Consumer Privacy, and Transatlantic Computing.”

Ricardo Neuner, Ph.D. candidate, University of Konstanz, “Inside the American Consumer: The Psychology of Buying in Behavioral Research, 1950-1980.”

Stanley Fonseca, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Southern California, “Cruising: Capitalism, Sexuality, and Environment in Cruise Ship Tourism, 1930-2000.”

History of Medicine Collections:

Jackson Davidow, Theory and History of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design, “Picturing a Pandemic: South African AIDS Cultural Activism in a Global Context.”

Lisa Pruitt, Faculty, Department of History, Middle Tennessee State University, “Crippled: A History of Childhood Disability in America, 1860-1980.”

Morgan McCullough, Ph.D. candidate, Lyon G. Tyler Department of History, William and Mary, “Material Bodies: Race, Gender, and Women in the Early American South.”

Human Rights Archive:

Andrew Seber, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Chicago, “Neither Factory nor Farm: The Fallout of Late-Industrial Animal Agriculture in America, 1970-2000.”

Eugene (Charlie) Fanning, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park, “Empire of The Everglades: A Global History of Agribusiness, Labor, and the Land in 20th Century South Florida.”

Jennifer Leigh, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, New York University, “Public Health vs. Pro-gun Politics: The Role of Racism in the Silencing of Research on Gun Violence, 1970-1996.”

Richard Branscomb, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, “Defending the Self, Preserving Community: Gun Rights, Paramilitarization, and the Radical Right, 1990-2005.”

Outliving Outbreaks: Exploring Early Efforts to Fight Epidemics

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian and Rachel Ingold, Curator, History of Medicine Collections.

Philadelphia in 1793. New York in 1795. Gloucestershire in 1798. London in 1854. Crimean Peninsula in 1855.

This may seem like an unrelated list of places and dates, but each represents a particular moment in the history of our fight against infectious disease. From the earliest days of epidemiology to the experiments that launched our vaccinated world, these moments continue to resonate today. While most of us have more immediate concerns – from job security to our own physical and mental health – it is worth considering the roots of now-common disease maps or the idea of “social distancing” to slow infection rates.

The Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine Collections has material related to the history of epidemics, pandemics, and infectious disease. Below you’ll find a sample of sources from us as well as resources from other institutions.

Yellow Fever, 1790s

When yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793, nearly a tenth of the city’s population perished during the outbreak. Physicians struggled to understand how the disease spread and struggled to effectively treat the growing number of ill Philadelphians. One physician, Benjamin Rush, wrote to his wife throughout the outbreak and their letters offer a look at life during an epidemic.

These letters, part of the Benjamin and Julia Stockton Rush papers, are digitized and available online. A companion digital exhibit, Malignant Fever, curated by Mandy Cooper, provides more information about Rush and includes additional resources for understanding the 1793 outbreak.

Letter from Benjamin Rush to Julia Stockton Rush describing the symptoms of yellow fever and noting that all common remedies have failed. August 29, 1793.

 

Image of the tongue during different stages of yellow fever, by Etienne Pariset, 1820.

 

Other American cities were not immune to yellow fever and New York City saw an outbreak in 1795. Local physician Valentine Seamen, trying to locate the source of the disease, collected information about each case and created an early disease map using this data.

Valentine Seaman’s yellow fever map where the dots represent known cases of yellow fever and an “S” represents areas with waste or filth.

Seaman, despite his efforts, did not correctly identify the cause of yellow fever. He did note the presence of mosquitoes, but concluded that the accumulated filth near the city’s docks were to blame. Seaman’s case data, maps, and his analysis were published in The Medical Repository. The Rubenstein Library has a copy and a digitized version can be accessed through HathiTrust.

Cholera, London, 1854

A later attempt to trace the source of a contagion through mapping was more successful. John Snow suspected that contaminated water was to blame for a cholera outbreak in London. Snow investigated each case and noted which water pump the infected individual used. He marked the cases on a map published in the 1855 edition of On the mode of communication of cholera.

John Snow’s map showing the spread of cholera in the Soho area of London.
Detail of cholera map showing the concentration of cases around the contaminated Broad Street pump.

Fortunately, Snow was right about the source of cholera. His data was convincing enough to have the water pump at the center of the outbreak disabled. The Rubenstein Library holds a rare copy of On the mode of communication of cholera (shown above).

Smallpox, 1790s

Decades before John Snow’s map, Edward Jenner investigated smallpox, a widespread and dangerous disease in the eighteenth century. Jenner created an early vaccine using material taken from a fresh cowpox lesion after observing that cowpox infection prevented subsequent smallpox infection. Jenner shared his discovery in An Inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolae vaccinae (1798). The library holds a copy of this book containing surprisingly lovely illustrations of infected arms. The library also holds a small collection of Edward Jenner’s papers that include letters discussing vaccination and a diary containing vaccination records.

Illustration of a cowpox infected arm from Jenner’s An inquiry into the causes and effects.

 

Camp Diseases, Crimean Peninsula, 1854-1855

As a nurse during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale saw large numbers of soldiers die from diseases like cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, and typhus. Linking these deaths to poor sanitation, Nightingale worked to clean up military camps while also collecting data about the impact of disease on British soldiers.

In Mortality of the British Army (1858), Nightingale’s data is used to create visualizations that illustrate the poor camp conditions and make the case for sanitation reform. One visualization stands out as we practice “social distancing.” The image below compares the population densities in various locations and notes the amount of space per person. Densities in military camps, where disease was widespread, were noticeably higher than even places like urban London where people had more distance from their neighbors.

We hold a copy of this work (that is definitely worth seeing in person) and a digital copy is available through Internet Archive.

Diagrams of densities in military camps compared to those in London.

 

From our colleagues at other institutions, you can find other excellent resources on this topic:

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics is a digital collection of sources from Harvard libraries. As their site explains, the goal is to provide historical context to current epidemiology and contribute to the understanding of the global, social-history, and public policy implications of disease. Materials include digitized books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and more. The site is organized around momentous historical outbreaks such as the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia and the 1918 Influenza outbreak in North America.

The National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health also have a number of resources, such as health information guides from past pandemics. The National Library of Medicine hosts the  Global Health Events web archive, a resource that has archived selected websites from 2014 around major global health events such as Ebola and Zika.  The collection includes both websites and social media with the goal of offering a diverse and global perspective ranging from government and NGOs to healthcare workers and journalists.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources related to infectious disease and the attempts to stop its spread. If you want to explore more of these materials in the Rubenstein or find additional online resources, our “Guide to Researching Epidemics in the Rubenstein” is a good place to get started.

We encourage you to visit us when we reopen to the public! In the meantime, get in touch and let us know if you have questions!