Category Archives: History of Medicine

2023-2024 Research Travel Grants Open

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2023-2024 research travel grant program. Our program is open to all kinds of researchers– artists, activists, students, and scholars—whose work would be supported by sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers.

Research travel grants of up to $1500 are offered by the following Centers and research areas:

Archive of Documentary Arts
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Travel Grants
Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
History of Medicine Collections
Human Rights Archive
John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)

Each grant offering is specific to the associated subject area and collection holdings, and our archivists can help you determine eligibility for your project. We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty and teachers; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. Applicants must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees. Awards are paid as reimbursement after completion of the research visit(s). The deadline for applications will be Friday, February 24, 2023, at 6:00 pm EST. Recipients should be announced by the end of April 2023, and grants will be for travel during May 2023-June 2024.

An online information session will be held Thursday, January 19, 2023, 1-2 EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. This program will be recorded, and posted online afterwards.  Register for the session here. Further questions may be directed to AskRL@duke.edu with the subject line “Travel Grants.”

[An earlier version of this post had the incorrect date for the info session. It will be held Thursday, January 19.]

The Ladies’ Physician fumbles the mic a bit but mostly drops it

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

The History of Medicine special collection houses many exciting—and, dare we say, sexy—artifacts that draw the interest of students, staff, and researchers. The carved ivory memento mori is a thing of beauty. The amputation set invites people to picture themselves on a battlefield during the Civil War. Anatomy and dissection are contemplated as one looks at flapbooks and manikins.

But what draws me in? The written word. The books, the pamphlets, the zines—they are the voices echoing to me through time.

With abortion constantly in the news at this cataclysmic time, and with a young child with many questions about puberty, I threw myself into the History of Medicine Collections as its latest intern, wanting to know, “What do we say about puberty? About menstruation? About abortion? What do doctors say? What do mothers say? What does corporate America say? For heaven’s sake, what do we tell the children?!” Here is a small sampling of what the special collection offers.

Title page from The Ladies’ Physician: A Guide for Women in the Treatment of their Ailments.

The Ladies’ Physician: A Guide for Women in the Treatment of their Ailments by a London Physician is a book from 1884. This guide has several redeeming factors. It makes clear that it is the mother’s duty to inform their daughters of what to expect before menstruation begins. While not always feasible (what does one do when there is not a maternal figure in the child’s life?), I generally like the attitude that we do not leave young girls and women in the dark regarding their health. In some ways, the text is very thorough in covering many common issues that women might experience, including the more benign, such as leukorrhea (“the whites”, or simply, vaginal discharge), to the more serious, such as tumors and endometritis. This was somewhat shocking to me as, anecdotally, I hear from many women that their endometritis was ignored by health providers for many years before being properly diagnosed. Pregnancy and many of the possibilities an expectant mother might experience as the body changes are also covered—from varicose veins to constipation to neuralgia of the face.

The section on pregnancy begins with a quick history of how much has been discovered recently—such as how physicians can now say with certainty that a person is pregnant by using a stethoscope and auscultation. Only sixty years ago, our London Physician tells us, did a woman claim to be pregnant by the Holy Ghost and had many followers who believed her, including people in the medical field. (Actually, the London Physician says “medical men”, and I wondered if midwives were at all involved.) Different signs of pregnancy are written about, but we are also told that there may not be any signs at all, at which point, a story is told about a Mrs. G—–, which feels straight out of a modern showing of “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”. Neither Mrs. G—– nor the neighborhood physician ever guessed she was pregnant, and indeed she was in labor and they still did not suspect that she was giving birth. Ten hours into labor, another doctor examined her and realized what was happening, though the expectant parents still did not believe it. The story has a happy ending—healthy mom, healthy and loved daughter. The London Physician also tells us that the opposite can occur, when a person thinks they are pregnant when they are not, whether it is due to false signs from tumors, an abnormal menstrual cycle, or simply gas or muscles twitching.

As one might expect, The Ladies’ Physician has its problems and questionable moments, too. The causes of puberty and menstruation are written about obtusely—I could not guarantee that a person without some prior knowledge of menstruation would completely understand what the book is saying happens during “the process which marks woman as woman.” (I will not even get into how this is not how we define “woman” anymore because now we know not all women experience menstruation.) The text also does not include visuals. At another time, the London Physician gives somehow not enough information by giving us too much information. We are initially told the average pregnancy is about nine or ten months, but the London Physician goes on for a distressing couple of pages about how some countries and cultures think that the duration of pregnancy lasts longer–three hundred days, or even going into years, the most being four years. (FYI: Elephants have the longest pregnancies of any land mammal, somewhere between eighteen to twenty-three months.) I do not know if this was simply an interesting point about varying belief systems, or to go back to the point about how physicians have recently learned more about pregnancy, or to cover all the bases of how long one might be pregnant in case somebody is incorrect.

One section regarding abortion was interesting to me, and I feel the need to quote it to get it exactly right. From pages 222-223, regarding severe cases of illness:

Pages 222-223 from The Ladies’ Physician

The cases in which such extreme measures are called for are of extreme rarity. It happens only when the mother’s life is in imminent and urgent peril; then it becomes a duty to act promptly and empty the uterus, and thus save the only life that can be saved, unless, indeed, it be in the later months of pregnancy, when both lives—the mother’s and the child’s—can in this manner be spared. Repulsive as it is to destroy the child, still it is the highest duty, and no hesitation should be felt in sacrificing it in circumstances stated, for unless this be done, and done promptly, not only the life of the child, but that of the mother will also be lost.

Another section about quickening was of interest from page 196. The London Physician does not think this is the moment a child is considered alive, instead that the

…embryo is alive from the first, though its life is a lower form of life than it is after the fifth or sixth month, just as the life of a child an hour before birth is a lower form of life than that it possesses an hour after birth.

They do not know when the child possesses a soul but

…[l]et it suffice here to say that from the time of conception there is life in the embryo, simple though it be when compared with the higher life of a born child or an adult man, yet too complex to be solved by the greatest philosopher. 

Page 196 from The Ladies’ Physician

I think the London Physician dropped the mic there, so I will end here as well.

Some of this blog post was written tongue-in-cheek, but that does not discount how I think on this book. In 1884, women had something to refer to that gave them reassuring and helpful information regarding their bodies. The information is given in a matter-of-fact manner, not sensationalized or hidden in shame (though we could work on some bits for clarification). It still leaves me with many questions—how many people had access to this book? Who was the London Physician? What did people do if they did not have access to a book like this? I am assuming they sought other women for advice, or at least I am hoping they did.

 

 

 

 

Forceps, Women’s Rights, and Professional Turf War: American Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Twentieth Century

Post contributed by Haleigh Yaspan, Independent Researcher

Pregnancy and birth, as universal and unvarying phenomena, can offer a revealing and reflective view into a specific historical chapter. Careful attention to the dynamic nature of the circumstances that have historically defined the experiences of pregnant and birthing women can help us contextualize and better understand our present moment. The relationship is bidirectional: so too does an exploration of historical factors help shed light on the rationale for trends in the medicalization of birth. The aid of a generous History of Medicine travel grant allowed me to spend time with a number of fascinating collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library that can offer such insight. These included, for example, the collection of medical instruments from the practice of Dr. LM Draper, the Louise Hortense Branscomb papers, and the Wilton G. Fritz Collection Artifacts.

In the United States, the circumstances of birth changed dramatically toward the end of the Progressive Era. Prior to the twentieth century, the care of pregnant and birthing women was most commonly the domain of midwives and other female practitioners, who were not incorporated into a recognized professional body. The shift toward a physician-centric approach can be traced back to a revolution within the medical profession, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing well into the following century. The wide variety of obstetrical tools surviving from Dr. LM Draper’s twentieth-century collection offers insight into standard practices of American physicians of the day. I was particularly intrigued by the array of various iterations of forceps, insinuated as they are in the medical profession’s early- and mid-century proclivity toward instrumental intervention in labor, an intentional move to set physicians apart from low-interventionist midwives.

a pair of metal forceps
Obstetrical forceps had been invented in the seventeenth century, although their use was not widespread until much later.

 

The glass slides for Dr. Carter’s OB/GYN lectures provided a window into the education aspect of the medical approach to obstetrics. Such primary sources set forth the gold standard of mid-century medical education of the day. The use of visuals in the slides informs an understanding of the historical pedagogical practices in this field, while the language employed clues us into the sociocultural milieu that circumscribed and defined medical education of the day.

American medical students learned about the history of childbirth, which had not traditionally been considered the purview of medical practitioners.

 

The medicalization of birth that took shape in the early twentieth century has attracted both celebration and criticism. Many have critiqued physicians, both in this period and since, for their quickness to instrumentally intervene in birth and their failure to outperform more hands-off midwives in terms of clinical outcomes. In the early twentieth century, Abraham Flexner, under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation, set out to survey the state of medical education in the United States and Canada. His 1910 report eviscerated the medical profession, suggesting that a vast majority of American doctors were woefully unqualified and had received what little education they possessed from institutions of highly dubious rigor and quality. “But the very worst showing,” he noted, “is made in the matter of obstetrics.”

The Rubenstein Library’s disruptive copy of A Curious Herbal

Post contributed by Janet Stiles Tyson, independent researcher.

colored picture of fig plant
Hand-colored etching of fig, from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

This blog post concerns a copy of a historically significant English herbal, held by the Rubenstein Library. Along with its producer Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal[1] comprised the topic of my PhD thesis for Birkbeck College, University of London. It remains the focus of my post-doctoral research.

She was born in London in 1699 as Elizabeth Simpson, and married to a Scotsman named Alexander Blackwell. She made 500 life-size watercolor drawings of medicinal plants and translated those drawings on to etching plates, which were then sent to a printer to be produced as black-and-white multiples. After printing, Blackwell used watercolor paint to color many of the imprinted images. Between mid-1735 and mid-1739, those images were sold in fascicules or gatherings of four pages each. Each fascicule also included a page of text explaining the use of the four illustrated plants. Gatherings that contained four uncolored images cost one shilling; each group containing four colored images cost two shillings. Buyers compiled their pages (along with title pages, indexes, and other leaves that were printed and distributed) and had them bound—typically into two folio-format volumes.

Image showing text from title page of A Curious Herbal
Volume One title page from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Blackwell’s first publisher was Samuel Harding, whose name is found on title pages dated 1737. The name of Blackwell’s second publisher, John Nourse, is found on title pages dated 1739 and 1751. Copies also exist that were published under the name of Charles Nourse and dated 1782. However, composition and dating of extant copies isn’t as straightforward as this summary suggests, which is why much of my ongoing research involves finding and viewing as many copies as I can. Thus far, I have found about 110 copies, and have examined every single page of about sixty-five.

This brings me to the Rubenstein Library copy, which I visited in early August of this year [2022]. I first learned of it from catalogues for auctions held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s between 1981 and 2017. Online color photographs and verbal descriptions left me in no doubt about its beauty and importance. It was printed on extra-large folio sheets of paper, such that it measured about 18-by-12 inches in height and breadth. Pictures showed that its two volumes were bound in gold-stamped black morocco leather, and that the edges of its pages had been finished in gold. It also was evident that the plates had been colored with great care and subtly.

It originally had been owned by a London apothecary named Josiah Messer (1753-1830), whose signature was inscribed on the verso of the title page. A watercolor drawing and a hand-colored etching had been inserted at the back of volume one. Bookplates for another, presumably later, owner named George Hubbard were affixed to the marble endpapers in each volume. Assuming that its last sale at auction had been to a private collection, it seemed that I would never see Josiah Messer’s copy of A Curious Herbal.

Thus I watched, incredulously, as Rubenstein librarians removed the two volumes of the Messer copy from their archival boxes.

image showing page of text from preface
Blackwell preface from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal.

I began carefully turning its pages. Messer’s signature was on the reverse of the title page. There were the customary two pages of endorsements by various medical men. There were five lavishly etched and engraved dedicatory leaves that I knew from other copies. And there was a blank leaf where the first explanatory page should have been. Briefly perplexed, I decided that explanatory pages had been arranged to face the first image of each group of four. I’d seen that in other copies and would duly note.

I turned the page to find its verso filled with words from top to bottom, facing the front of another densely printed page. The word ‘Preface’ topped the first, and at the bottom of the second was the name ‘Elizabeth Blackwell’, and the legend: ‘Chelsea April ye 12th 1739’. After some preliminaries were the words:

I from my very Infancy shew’d an Inclination to imitate Pictures and

to attempt drawing such Things as pleased me; Whether this

proceeded from the strong impressions made on my tender Brain by

the agreeable Objects I was daily surrounded with (my Father Mr.

Leonard Simpson being a Painter) or a Genius born with me I can’t

determine.

A shiver of excitement shot from my head to my fingertips at ‘my Father Mr. Leonard Simpson being a Painter’. Hurriedly I told the librarians about this discovery, then returned to my table to email my Birkbeck supervisors, Vanessa Harding and Carmen Mangion. Both promptly messaged their kudos. Then, as I finished reading Blackwell’s preface and proceeded to examine and photograph further pages, Harding sent me another email.

Applying decades of research experience, Harding quickly found two other documents that cited Leonard Simpson by name. One announced the birth of a daughter to ‘Mr Leonard Simpson Designer in Paintings’, who lodged with a ‘Mr Simpson shoomaker of the Parish of St Mary Woolchurchhaw’. Dated ‘Aprill 1699’, it stated that daughter Elizabeth was born on the ‘three and twentith day of this moneth’ and  ‘baptized the 4th of May following’. The second document further noted that shoomaker Simpson’s dwelling was ‘next door to the White Horse in Poultry’.

color image of white waterlilly against a green lily pad
Hand-colored etching of white waterlily from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Over the years, I’ve found other Simpson references, including information that identified Blackwell’s mother’s name as Alice. But the Rubenstein copy holds the key to confirming Elizabeth Blackwell’s birth date and place. So much more could be said about this book and its illustrations, and the myriad curious tales of Elizabeth Blackwell. And perhaps further research will find further copies of that preface. For now, however, I hope that I have communicated the importance of this object at Duke University.

Works cited

Blackwell, Elizabeth (1737). A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick. London: Printed for Samuel Harding in St Martin’s Lane, MDCCXXXVII (1737) Rubenstein QK99.A1 B53 1737 folio v.1 c.1.

London Metropolitan Archives. Parchment register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1686-1726: LMA, P69/MRY15/A002/MS07636.

London Metropolitan Archives. Paper register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1695-1706: LMA, P69/MRY15/A/002/MSo7636.

[1] Full title: A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick.

 

 

Announcing our 2022-2023 Travel Grant Recipients

The Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022-2023 travel grants. Our research centers annually award travel grants to students, scholars, and independent researchers through a competitive application process. We extend a warm congratulations to this year’s awardees. We look forward to meeting and working with you!

Archive of Documentary Arts

Rebecca Bengal, Independent Researcher, “‘Bad Roads Ruin Even the Best of Cars’: William Gedney’s Kentucky.”

Alexandra Le Faou, Independent Researcher, “James H. Karales European Exhibition.”

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

Brianna Anderson, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English, University of Florida, “‘A Smidgeon of Ecofeminism’: Envisioning Environmental Issues and Activism in Women’s Zines.”

Rachel Corbman, Faculty, Mount Holyoke College, “Conferencing on the Edge: A Queer History of Feminist Field Formation, 1969-1989.”

Benjamin Holtzman, Faculty, Lehman College, “’Smash the Klan’: Fighting the White Power Movement in the Late Twentieth Century.”

Cindy Lima, Ph.D. candidate, Northwestern University, “Transnational Latinas: A Twentieth Century History of Latina Politics.”

Molli Spalter, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English, Wayne State University, “”Feeling Wrong and Feeling Wronged: Radical Feminism and ‘Feeling Work’.”

Emily Hunt, Ph.D. candidate, Emily Hunt, Georgia State University, “‘We are a Gentle Angry People and We are Singing for Our Lives’: A Story of Women’s Music, 1975-1995.”

Felicity Palma, Faculty, Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Pittsburgh, “of flesh and feelings and light and shadows.” (Grant sponsored jointly with the Archive of Documentary Arts.)

Lara Vapnek, Faculty, Department of History, St. John’s University, “Mothers, Milk, and Money: A History of Infant Feeding in the United States.” (Grant sponsored jointly with the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History.)

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

William Billups, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, Emory University, “”Reign of Terror”: Anti-Civil Rights Terrorism in the United States, 1955-1976.”

Thomas Cryer, Ph.D. candidate, Institute of the Americas, University College London, “’Walking the Tightrope’: John Hope Franklin and the Dilemmas of African American History in Action.”

Mikayla Harden, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Delaware, “Remnants: Captive African Children in the Black Atlantic World.”

Frances O’Shaughnessy, Ph.D. candidate, University of Washington, “Black Revolution on the Sea Islands: Empire, Property, and the Emancipation of Humanity.”

Emily Tran, Ph.D. candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “American Reckonings: Confronting and Repressing the Racist Past and Present, 1968-1998.”

Evan Wade, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Connecticut,” Henrietta Vinton Davis: From Teacher to Black Nationalist– an examination of a Black Woman’s Politics.”

Elizabeth Patton, Faculty, Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Maryland Baltimore County, “Representation as a Form of Resistance: Documenting African American Spaces of Leisure during the Jim Crow Era.” (Grant sponsored jointly with the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History.)

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

Mori Reithmayr, Ph.D. candidate, University of Oxford, “Community Before Liberation: Theorizing Gay Resistance in San Francisco, 1953-1969.”

Cathleen Rhodes, Faculty, Department of Women’s Studies, Old Dominion University, “Touring Tidewater: An Immersive Virtual Walking Tour of Southeastern Virginia’s Queer History.”

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History (John Furr Fellowship)

Jennifer Hessler, Faculty, Department of Media, Journalism, and Film, University of Huddersfield, “Television Ratings: From Audimeter to Big Data.”

Conrad Jacober, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, “Debt Prophets: American Bankers and the Origins of Financialization.”

Jeannette Strickland, Independent Researcher, “Lever Brothers Advertising and Marketing, 1900-1930, in the J. Walter Thompson Archives.”

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History (Alvin Achenbaum Travel Grants)

Anne Garner, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History and Culture, Drew University, “Recovering Throwaway Histories: Patent Medicine, Black Americans and the Blues in the Postbellum Piedmont.”

Rachel Plotnick, Faculty, Department of Cinema & Media Studies, Indiana University Bloomington, “License to Spill: Where Dry Devices Meet Liquid Lives.”

Elizabeth Patton, Faculty, Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Maryland Baltimore County, “Representation as a Form of Resistance: Documenting African American Spaces of Leisure during the Jim Crow Era.” (Grant sponsored jointly with the John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture.)

Lara Vapnek, Faculty, Department of History, St. John’s University, “Mothers, Milk, and Money: A History of Infant Feeding in the United States.” (Grant sponsored jointly with the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.)

History of Medicine Collections

Jessica Dandona, Faculty, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, “Skeletons in the Drawing Room: Popular Consumption of Flap Anatomies, 1880-1900.”

Jeremy Montgomery, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, Mississippi State University, “‘Look To Your Map’: Medical Distinctiveness and the United States, 1800-1860.”

Haleigh Yaspan, Master’s candidate, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester, “Forceps, Women’s Rights, and Professional Turf War: Pregnancy and Childbirth in the United States, 1914-1962.”

Human Rights Archive

Molly Carlin, Ph.D. candidate, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex, “How to Jail a Revolution: Theorising the Penal Suppression of American Political Voices, 1964-2022.”

Tyler Goldberger, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, College of William & Mary, “”Generalísimo Franco is Still Alive!”: Transnational Human Rights and the Anti-Fascist Narrativization of the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco Dictatorship within the United States, 1936-Present.”

Thomas Maggiola, Master’s candidate, Department of Latin American Studies and History, University of California San Diego, “Guatemala’s Transnational Civil War, 1970-1996.”

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Research Travel Grants

Jennifer Doyle, Faculty, University of California Riverside, “Alethurgy’s Shadows: Harassment, Paranoia, and Grief.”

Annie Sansonetti, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Performance Studies, New York University, “Feminine Boyhood and Trans Girlhood Onstage.”

Post compiled by Roshan Panjwani, Staff Assistant, Rubenstein Library

Meet Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern

Post contributed by Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern for 2021-2022, and Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections.

Roger Peña, wearing a dark blue shirt, stands in front of an exhibit display case. A green sign hanging behind him reads "Good Vibrations: A Look at the Golden Age of Electroshock Therapy."
Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern, stands by the exhibit “Good Vibrations” that he curated.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Roger, and I grew up in the Boston area. I attended Syracuse University as an undergraduate and earned a Master’s degree in education at Lesley University in Massachusetts. I moved down to North Carolina in 2013 and have served as an educator in private and public schools. I’m currently in my last year at UNC Greensboro’s MLIS program with a specialization in special collections and archives.

My wife and I have two children—ages 3 and 2 months—and we live in Durham. I love all things history and our house is filled with books and magazines related to several historic topics. I really love to cook and try new recipes. We are HUGE Boston sports fans so you will usually find us watching one of my sports teams on TV.

What interests you in working in a library setting, specifically in the History of Medicine Collections?

I’m 35 and a career changer. I had always thought about going back to school to earn an MLIS but never thought I had the time. The COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and having some extra time to think about career goals rekindled my interest in earning my degree. I’ve always wanted to work in special collections and archives and hope to continue this work after graduation.

As a teenager, I “lived” at libraries and museums in my hometown of Boston. I love studying all things history and being able to handle old artifacts and primary sources—holding history in my hand! I’m that person at museums and historic sites asking questions, trying to touch everything and reading as many labels as possible. Being a history teacher, sharing stories of the past, and having students research and explore topics that interest them has always been important to me.

I love reading, instruction and all things history so I jumped at the chance to work at the Rubenstein Library. The history of medicine is always present when studying other historic topics and the History of Medicine (HoM) collection encompasses that. Even after months as the HoM intern, I’m still blown away by how vast and diverse the History of Medicine collection is and how much it has to offer. I’ve been able to hold manuscripts, artifacts, and books that are centuries old. There’s a special feeling when you pick up these resources; and you can’t help but feel a connection to the past and the individuals who used or created these materials.

The Josiah C. Trent HoM Internship has allowed me to explore the research aspect of special collections; and  I’ve also been able to create and plan exhibits, helped with reference services and  instructional support, and collaborated with other collections at the Rubenstein Library! It’s been a fantastic learning experience.

Can you share a memorable experience from your internship?

It’s really hard to choose just one memorable experience. I’ve enjoyed getting to know other Rubenstein Library staff and meeting researchers from across the world. Walking into the stacks makes me feel right at home and I always have to take a step back and appreciate how special the collection is. Being able to immerse yourself with the material and learning the ins and outs of academic libraries has been especially rewarding.

Participating and helping to coordinate Anatomy Day and researching and curating physical and online exhibits, like Good Vibrations, have been just a few of my favorite moments. Helping with instructional support is always fun as I was able to combine my past experience as an educator and help students interact with primary sources. It’s always fun to see a student’s reaction when something has caught their interest.

Hand colored illustration from Shunrinken kasho in the Japanese medical manuscript notebooks collection. The illustration shows a doctor in gray clothing tending to a wound in a patient's neck.
Hand colored illustration from Shunrinken kasho in the Japanese medical manuscript notebooks collection.

Do you have a favorite item you would like to share?

Again, hard to choose just one. The anatomical flap books and the Four Seasons are quite a sight to see and exemplify how people have always had a curiosity to touch and personally interact with materials. I really loved the East Asian medical books featured at Anatomy Day: Shunrinken kasho (Shunrinken school family book) from the Japanese medical manuscripts notebooks and Shinkan Geka Seisō 新刊外科正宗. The illustrations in these books are phenomenal.

The amputation set from the mid-19th century has probably been the item I spent the most time with. It’s one of those artifacts that you can’t help but want to learn more about. Being a student of American history and an aficionado of learning about the Civil War, the amputation set from the mid 19th century called my name. I first came across the saw when I was assisting Dr. Jeff Baker and Brooke Guthrie with a History of Surgery class and Dr. Baker asked me if I could handle student questions related to Civil War medicine – which I was more than happy to do!

I was fortunate enough to have a blog post published on The Devil’s Tale and Duke Daily where I was able to investigate the history of the saw and its origins. Holding the amputation saw in your hand,  you can easily imagine a world where physicians grappled with decisions regarding the need for an amputation and  the thousands of soldiers whose lives were forever changed by the war and surgical procedure. It was an eye-opening experience and allowed me to explore the unique but very complicated role that North Carolina played in the Civil War.

 

Good Vibrations!

Post contributed by Roger Peña, MLIS Student at UNC Greensboro and Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

19th century printed illustration reading "The Electric Era." In the center is a man standing, holding an electric belt above his head with lightning bolts behind him. “We give a written guarantee that our appliance will cure the diseases mentioned…”

 “Indoresed[sic] by the government!”

 “Every man and woman troubled with weak and languid feelings, nervous, rheumatic, or organic disorders should wear the… electropathic belt”

 “Diseases that are now treated successfully by vibration… (colic, gallstones, impotency, insomnia, paralysis, spinal curvature)” See Image for full list.

 “Vibration and Electricity are the most natural remedies known.”

The statements above were just a sample of the testimonials and claims found in advertisements, sales brochures, and user manuals for electrotherapy devices on display in Good VibrationsElectrotherapy, or the “use of electric currents passed through the body to stimulate nerves and muscles” gained notoriety from the mid 1800s and into the 1920s. Consumers and patients were eager to explore the endless possibilities of electricity to cure their medical ailments and improve their vitality. Eager to reach new customers and with little-to-no government oversight, producers of medical batteries, electric suspension belts, and electric rejuvenators claimed that their devices could cure nearly all diseases – many with a money-back guarantee if it didn’t work!

Ad for "White Cross Electric Vibrator" listing "Diseases That Are Now Treated Successfully By Vibration." There is a long list of disease and conditions including asthma, dandruff, deafness, falling hair, gout, lameness, ovarian neuralgia, stomach troubles, and weak eyes. Though widely regarded as a modern innovation, the use of electricity in medicine dates back to ancient Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Centuries ago, these civilizations attempted to harness electricity from eels and catfish to cure ailments such as gout and baldness. We all remember the story of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite. Turns out: this may have been an experiment with medical purposes. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has its protagonist experiment with electricity to bring life back from the dead.

Black and white photograph. In the foreground is a man seated with his shirt unbuttoned. Behind him is another man in a suit holding what looks like a small metal rod to the other man's head. The rod is attached to a device on a table next to them. The invention of the battery in the early nineteenth century revolutionized the capabilities of electricity, and its uses for medical purposes were widely studied. From the 1850s to the early twentieth century, once-unimaginable discoveries in battery power and electricity transformed the world. Many people began to believe they could harness this new power for medical, health, and beauty purposes.

Cities around the world became home to university departments, medical societies, and practices devoted to electrotherapy. At the same time, mass consumerism and mass production allowed average citizens to purchase cheap electrical therapy devices from sales catalogs, local electricians, and medical supply companies and salesmen. Portrayed as an alternative to pills and medicine, electrotherapy devices (through low current shock waves or vibrations applied to different areas of the body) claimed to treat a wide range of conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, gout, impotency, glaucoma, and “nervousness.”

Although such devices were often dismissed as quackery by many in the medical profession, their low cost and widespread marketing attracted a large audience eager to consume all things electric.

The items on display in Good Vibrations explore the history of electrotherapy from the mid-19th century and into the Roaring 1920s. Several of the items on display, including the Davis-Patent Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases, the Overbeck Electric Rejuvenator, and the Violet Ray Machine, serve as early examples of electrotherapeutic devices. All items on display come from the History of Medicine Collections and the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Good Vibrations will be on display in The Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room from April 26, 2022 until October 15, 2022 .Box containing an "Overbeck Rejuventaor." The box is black with a leather texture and a clasp. Inside are electrodes and wires connected to handles.

Panel Discussion: J. B. Rhine: ESP at Duke

Date: Thursday, April 14, 2022
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold (rachel.ingold@duke.edu or 919-684-8549)

The Rubenstein Library houses the Parapsychology Laboratory Records, a collection of 700 boxes of materials that reveal a comprehensive picture of the Laboratory during its existence at Duke. The collection includes personal papers of J. B. Rhine, J. G. Pratt, Louisa E. Rhine, and others, as well as professional correspondence, research records, legal and financial papers, clippings, and photographs.

Join us on Thursday, April 14, at 5 p.m. for a panel discussion on J. B. Rhine: ESP at Duke. Panelists will discuss J. B. Rhine’s pioneering research on telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis.

Panelists include:

  • Barbara Ensrud, Moderator
  • Sally Rhine Feather, Ph.D.,  Clinical Psychologist, co-editor of J. B. Rhine : Letters, 1923-1939 : ESP and the Foundations of Parapsychology
  • John G. Kruth, Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center
  • James Carpenter, Ph.D., Psychotherapist
  • Tom Robisheaux, Ph.D., Professor of History, Duke University

Our event coincides with an exhibit, “Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke,” on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room of the Rubenstein Library.

Applications Open for 2022-2023 Research Travel Grants

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2022-2023 research travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!

Research travel grants of up to $1500 are offered by the following Centers and research areas:

  • Archive of Documentary Arts
  • Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
  • History of Medicine Collections
  • Human Rights Archive
  • John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
  • John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
  • Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers

We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty members; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. (Must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees.) These grants are offered as reimbursement based on receipt documentation after completion of the research visit(s). The deadline for applications will be Saturday, April 30, 2022, at 6:00 pm EST. Grants will be awarded for travel during June 2022-June 2023.

An information session will be held Wednesday, March 23rd at 2PM EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions.  Register for the session here. Further questions may be directed to AskRL@duke.edu.

Image citation: Cover detail from African American soldier’s Vietnam War photograph album https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4319wn3g

To Be or Not to Be (Vaccinated)?

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

The history of vaccine hesitancy is nothing new. Pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers from the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries feature opposing views of vaccination. Some profess personal liberty and abhor government intervention (i.e. instituting compulsory vaccination); or claim that potential side effects from vaccines are too risky. Others stress that public health and the well-being of communities against preventable, lethal diseases, should prevail through large-scale, or even mandatory, vaccinations.

Does this sound a bit familiar?

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library has material, ranging in format and date, that document the long history of vaccine hesitancy. In October 2019, an exhibit Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate was installed in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room. When campus closed in March 2020, so did our exhibit spaces. This exhibit became inaccessible at a time when it was becoming most relevant.

Image annoucing that exhibit was closed in response to coronavirus.
Image from Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate, person in bed from Engravings by Clemens Kohl

We are now happy to share the online exhibit for Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate. Take a break from current news to view materials that give context to this ongoing, historical debate.