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Emotions and Disease banner written in dark purple with a light blue background. On the left side of the words is a bedside scene in a traditional medical setting. On the right side is an image of a nerve cell.

Exhibition Directors' Statement

The exhibition Emotions and Disease was initially developed by the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine, in conjunction with the Third International Congress of the International Society for Neuroimmunomodulation which met at the National Institutes of Health in November 1996. The exhibition was intended to provide historical perspective and context for the scientific discussions and presentations at the Congress and to explain to the general public the meaning and relevance of scientific developments linking neurophysiology to the functioning of our immune systems. Using the historical approach, we could make these sophisticated scientific developments more accessible to a non-specialist audience. The historical approach could also be used to show the complex relationships between scientific theories, popular ideas, and their cultural context.

One of the paradoxes we found was that the close relationship between health, disease, and the emotions seemed to be more readily accepted in popular culture than within the contemporary scientific community. Why, we asked, has the close relationship of emotions to disease been so central to the long history of medical practice, yet has been regarded with suspicion by some sectors of the modern biomedical community?

This exhibition evolved as a dialogue between scientists and historians pursuing answers to these questions. The dialogue has been fruitful, although difficult at times. The historians involved have had to learn some of the language and perspectives of the biomedical sciences and the scientists have had to cope with the different language and perspectives of the historians. Working on this exhibition, we found that the collaboration across disciplines, indeed across the great divide between contemporary science and the humanities, can be a rewarding adventure for all participants and well worth the occasional linguistic, philosophical, and political struggles involved. The results appeal to and engage a variety of audiences from students of science and history to professionals in these fields.

We would like to thank Dr. Sheldon Cohen, himself a model of interdisciplinary work between the history of medicine and contemporary science, for introducing us: Elizabeth Fee, a historian of medicine, and Esther Sternberg, a neuroendocrinimmunologist. Together we developed the general outline of the exhibition and invited Anne Harrington and Theodore M. Brown to serve as Visiting Curators, responsible for the overall intellectual development of the exhibition and for writing the panels, captions, and catalogue materials. Gretchen Hermes joined us for a summer as assistant curator. Key to the success of the exhibition were our panel of distinguished consultants and the timely and generous support of the Charles A. Dana Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Also essential were the invaluable contributions of Lou Storey as exhibition designer, Anne Whitaker as collections manager, and Patricia Tuohy as exhibition manager. The acknowledgments in this catalogue recognize the many individuals who contributed to this project and to whom we are grateful.

The particular combination of talented people involved in the creation of this exhibition have worked together to show how historical research and contemporary science, presented through creative use of visual design and modern media, can be effective in bringing new forms of understanding to the public. We believe that the history of science and medicine can help us understand and appreciate new scientific frontiers while also demonstrating the ways in which our forebears have addressed, explored, and puzzled over the same issues that engage us today. By addressing past and current controversies in science and medicine, we hope to captivate public interest and help build awareness of the need for further historical and medical research. As in the case of Emotions and Disease, federal agencies and private foundations can work together to produce attractive and instructive educational materials on health and medicine for the public. We hope this project may serve as an inspiration and model for many other such efforts.

Elizabeth Fee, Ph.D.
Chief, History of Medicine Division
National Library of Medicine

Esther M. Sternberg, M.D.
Chief, Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior
National Institute of Mental Health