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NLM History Talks: Current

History Talks in 2022

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    Narratives of Pandemics Past: Archival Approaches to Understanding the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Alexandre White, PhD—Assistant Professor of Sociology and the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and School of Medicine

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Alexandre White on Circulating Now

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    The last two years have produced a new fascination with historical epidemic moments. This pandemic of COVID-19 has required us all to become conversant in epidemiology, fields of public health and also histories of medicine. From the 1918/-1920 Influenza pandemic to smallpox and polio eradication campaigns to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, journalists, social scientists and historians have sought historical analogues to our present pandemic moment. Archives have been a critical lens into understanding our current moment. Drawing on material from the U.S. National Library of Medicine as well has his own research on the history of international epidemic responses, Dr. White will explore how archives provide a key glimpse into the ways epidemics have been experienced in the past, how they were conceptualized in their time and ways that we can employ these histories in understanding our own present.

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    What History Reveals: Slavery and the Development of U.S. Gynecology

    Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD—The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine & Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Deirdre Cooper Owens on Circulating Now

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    In her talk, Dr. Cooper Owens will reveal the genealogical origins of American modern gynecology. She explains how the institution of American slavery was directly linked to the development of reproductive medicine in the US. Dr. Cooper Owens provides context for how and why physicians denied black women their full humanity; but also valued them as “medical superbodies” highly suited for experimentation to cure all women. Engaging with 19th-century ideas about so-called racial difference, Dr. Cooper Owens sheds light on the contemporary legacy of medical racism.

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    George Deacon and the Circulation of Homeopathic Therapies in Peru (1880-1915)

    Patricia Palma, PhD—Assistant Professor at the University of Tarapacá, Arica, Chile

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Patricia Palma on Circulating Now

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    Dr. Palma’s talk will focus on the circulation and use of homeopathic therapies and medicines in Lima in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The American homeopath George Deacon was responsible for expanding this medical practice in the country in the 1880s; this expansion continued until his death in 1915, in spite of his disputes with the local health authorities. Deacon published the first homeopathic journal in the country and Latin America, La Homeopatía. The National Library of Medicine holds the only two issues available in the world. Dr. Palma will discuss the events surrounding the life of Deacon and especially the evolution of his journal, the circulation of medical knowledge between the North and South, and his defense of homeopathy in a country unconnected to this practice.

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    The Measure of Black (Un)Fitness: Legacies of Slavery in the Early Eugenics Movement

    Rana A. Hogarth, PhD—Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Rana A. Hogarth on Circulating Now

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    This presentation considers how people of African descent became targets of eugenic study during the early decades of the twentieth century. It delves into the methods and assumptions eugenicists used to cast people of African descent as inherently unfit. Eugenicists saw blackness as a heritable trait that signaled a lack of vitality, innate promiscuity, and low achievement. That said, views about Black people’s inherent unfitness circulated well before the advent of eugenics. As such, this paper highlights the ways in which studies on fitness, some of which were carried out by the United States government in the aftermath of the Civil War, proved instrumental in laying the groundwork for future eugenic studies of people of African descent. Drawing upon a number of sources from NLM’s digital collections, Dr. Hogarth will trace the genealogy of ideas white eugenicists held about black people’s allegedly inherent unfitness in medical writings from the era of slavery and beyond.

    Dr. Hogarth’s talk is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the NLM/NEH partnership to collaborate on research, education, and career initiatives.

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    A Laboratory of Humanitarianism: Military and Civilian Captivity during the First World War

    Matthew Stibbe, PhD—Professor of Modern European History, Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, and 2019 NLM Michael E. DeBakey Fellow

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Matthew Stibbe on Circulating Now

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    Scholarship on captivity in modern conflicts has mostly focused on its violent aspects and on the very real physical and mental suffering of prisoners of war. This presentation will instead show why the First World War provided a unique laboratory for experimenting with different kinds of humanitarian assistance to those experiencing prolonged incarceration and separation from their families. Building on Dr. Stibbe’s recently published research, his talk will examine three different but overlapping approaches to humanitarian assistance: relief work, efforts to enforce and enhance existing international conventions, and pressures placed on captor nations to come to prisoner exchange agreements. The presentation will conclude by examining the legacy of these developments for cultural and medical understandings of wartime captivity in the inter-war period and beyond.

    The annual Michael E. DeBakey Lecture in the History of Medicine is given by a recipient of the NLM Michael E. DeBakey Fellowship in the History of Medicine, which supports research in the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine. The Fellowship was established in 2016 and is supported by from The DeBakey Medical Foundation. Explore past NLM Debakey Lectures.

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    Merleau-Ponty, Descartes, and the Meaning of Painting

    William D. Adams, PhD—Former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Former President, Colby College

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with William D. Adams on Circulating Now

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    Using materials from the historical collection of the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Adams will explore the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s critique of René Descartes’s theory of vision.

    Dr. Adams' talk is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the NLM/NEH partnership to collaborate on research, education, and career initiatives.

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  • Photographic portrait of a white man in an office setting.

    Islamic Medical Manuscripts in the National Library of Israel Collections

    Samuel Thrope, PhD—Curator, Islam and Middle East Collection, National Library of Israel, Islamic Medical Manuscripts in the National Library of Israel Collections

    11:00 a.m.–Noon ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Samuel Thrope on Circulating Now

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    The Islam and Middle East Collection of the National Library of Israel contains nearly 2500 Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries. Among these are numerous rare and important copies of works that attest to the history of Islamic medicine. While the bulk of these medical manuscripts were donated by the twentieth century scholar and manuscript dealer Abraham Shalom Yahuda, who sold the National Library of Medicine its own Islamic manuscript collection during the early 1940s, others were acquired over the course of the decades. Dr. Thrope’s talk will provide a guided tour of the National Library of Israel’s Islamic medicine collection, focusing in particular on rare and unique manuscripts that can shed light on the NLM's own collection, which is among the best in the world.

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    Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South

    Kylie M. Smith, PhD—Associate Professor, 2021-2022 President’s Humanities Fellow, Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow for Nursing & the Humanities, Emory University Atlanta, Georgia, and 2019 NLM G13 grant recipient

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

    Read an interview with Kylie M. Smith on Circulating Now

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    In 1969, after a protracted legal battle, Judge Frank M. Johnson of Alabama ordered that segregation of that state’s psychiatric hospitals was illegal and unconstitutional. In his judgement, Johnson drew on government inspections and grass roots legal activism to critique the terrible conditions that prevailed for Black patients. In this lecture Dr. Smith will give a preview of her forthcoming book Jim Crow in the Asylum in which she will demonstrate that racial segregation in psychiatric hospitals in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi was supported by underlying racist ideologies and has had long term consequences for psychiatric care in the South. This research draws on extensive records from the NLM, national and state archives, and the papers of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and is supported by the G13 Grant for Scholarly Works from the National Library of Medicine.

    For more than a decade, the NLM History of Medicine Division has hosted this special lecture in memory of our late colleague Dr. James H. Cassedy (1919–2007), renowned historian of medicine, 50-year employee of NLM, editor of the printed Bibliography of the History of Medicine and supporter of many essential research tools valued by generations scholars. During the course of his distinguished scholarly career, Dr. Cassedy received every major honor that the national professional society in his field, the American Association for the History of Medicine, could bestow. Explore past Cassedy Lectures.


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  • Photograph of a black woman in glasses in front of a bookshelf.

    Shutting the Digital Back Door: Creating Tech Justice with Health Data Liquidity and the Digital Humanities

    Kim Gallon, PhD, MS, MLIS—Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University, and Just Tech Fellow, Just Tech Program, Social Sciences Research Council

    1:00 p.m.–2:30 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

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    This talk explores the concept of the digital back door in health care, “technological processes and tools used in health care, such as racially biased algorithms, infrastructural limitations, and dirty data” and its historical roots in structural and systemic racism. The methodological use of the digital humanities offers an opportunity to eliminate digital back doors by creating more humanistic and equitable health information technology (health IT) that address health disparities and inequities. Data liquidity, health information and data that is more computationally agile, usable, and interoperable between patients and clinicians, fosters a reinterpretation of health data into voice, image and text that is both conducted and conveyed through the digital humanities. The talk concludes with the challenges of dismantling health IT praxis and infrastructure that are antithetical to the digital humanities and data liquidity.

    Dr. Gallon’s talk is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the NLM/NEH partnership to collaborate on research, education, and career initiatives.

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  • Black and white photograph of an Indian man.

    Socio-Cultural Responses within India during Times of Pandemic Disease

    John Mathew, PhD—Associate Professor of History of Science, Humanities & Social Sciences & Sciences, Krea University, Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, India

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

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    Focusing on the history of India, Dr. Mathew will explore the complex and underappreciated ways in which Indian folk-beliefs, myth, superstition, related stories (witnessed and fictional) and local traditions, have combined to inform the experience of epidemic and pandemic disease, including in the main, but not limited to, cholera, plague, influenza and COVID-19. Drawing on collections of the NLM and other institutions, he will investigate how these complex belief systems intersect with different kinds of information about these diseases, revealing how every new outbreak is accompanied with information that did not exist during the previous outbreak, indeed how histories of these events have been documented and remembered from generation to generation.

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  • Photograph of a woman with dark hair standing in front of a banner that reads Arizona State University Operation Vaccin....

    Life after Lockdown: Pandemic Perspectives from Peru

    Kathleen Kole de Peralta, PhD—Clinical Assistant Professor of History, Arizona State University

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

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    The Journal of the Plague Year: A COVID-19 Archive is a digital, open access, crowdsourced archive collecting pandemic stories. Since its inception in March 2020, the archival team made efforts to intentionally collect pandemic stories in ethical, inclusive ways. In particular, it shows what we gain when we intentionally build digital humanities projects that expand beyond academic institutions and audiences. The COVID-19 archive successfully partnered with universities, libraries, and contributors across the global south including the Philippines, American Samoa, India, and Peru. Peru had one of the earliest, strictest, and longest lockdown policies, and yet it is still the global leader in COVID-19-related fatalities. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data submitted to the archive and oral histories, this talk examines the breaking points that undermined public health efforts and what life after lockdown looks like in Peru.

    Dr. Kole de Peralta’s talk is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the NLM/NEH partnership to collaborate on research, education, and career initiatives.

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    What’s in a Web Archive Collection? Summarization and Discovery of Archived Webpages

    Michele C. Weigle, PhD—Professor, Department of Computer Science, Old Dominion University

    2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. ET—This talk will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting.

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    Web archives are becoming an increasingly important resource for historical research, but discovery of resources in web archives can be daunting. The largest web archives, such as the Internet Archive's Wayback. Machine, are often too large for full-text search. To overcome this, many institutions, including the National Library of Medicine, have created collections of archived webpages to assist researchers in finding relevant materials. Dr. Weigle’s talk will present an overview of web archiving, discuss challenges in making sense of web archive collections, and highlight projects in the Web Science and Digital Libraries (WS-DL) research group at Old Dominion University focused on enhancing web archive collections.

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About the NLM History Talks

These talks sponsored by the NLM History of Medicine Division promote awareness and use of NLM and related historical collections for research, education, and public service in biomedicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. The series also supports the commitment of the NLM to recognize the diversity of its collections—which span ten centuries, encompass a range of digital and physical formats, and originate from nearly every part of the globe—and to foreground the voices of people of color, women, and individuals of a variety of cultural and disciplinary backgrounds who value these collections and use them to advance their research, teaching, and learning.

Stay informed about NLM History Talks on Twitter at #NLMHistTalk.


All talks are free and until further notice will be held virtually, closed-captioned live, live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived by NIH VideoCasting. Livestreaming and archiving of all NLM History Talks are made possible through a generous gift to the NLM from the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Foundation. The NLM is authorized to accept donations in support of its mission.

To request reasonable accommodations to participate in this event contact Lindsay Franz at Lindsay.Franz@nih.gov. Requests should be made as early as possible to allow time for coordination.

Last Reviewed: September 21, 2022