Alexandre White, PhD—Assistant Professor of Sociology and the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and School of MedicineRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
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-LincolnRead More
In her talk, Dr. 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 U.S. 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. Owens sheds light on the contemporary legacy of medical racism.Close Close All Open All
Patricia Palma, PhD—Assistant Professor at the University of Tarapacá, Arica, ChileRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
Rana A. Hogarth, PhD—Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
Matthew Stibbe, PhD—Professor of Modern European History, Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, and 2019 NLM Michael E. DeBakey FellowRead More
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 recent book, Civilian Internment during the First World War: A European and Global History, 1914-1920, 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.Close Close All Open All
William D. Adams, PhD—Former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Former President, Colby CollegeRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
Samuel Thrope, PhD—Curator, Islam and Middle East Collection, National Library of Israel, Islamic Medical Manuscripts in the National Library of Israel CollectionsRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
Farren Yero, PhD—Postdoctoral Associate, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Duke UniversityRead More
In 1804, the Spanish Crown introduced the smallpox vaccine to its empire, where vaccination was voluntary and where consent was a natural right ceded to parents. Despite these ostensible protections, authorities relied on enslaved, Indigenous, and other dispossessed bodies to incubate and reproduce the live vaccine and transport it across the empire. Analyzing this set of historical relations, Dr. Yero will ask what consent meant for parents and for children who were compelled to navigate epidemic disease, new means of prevention, but also the unequal structures of power that worked to narrowly define both freedom and motherhood through a colonial order of whiteness. Authorities assumed that it was mothers who would dictate their children’s care, and because of this, we have evidence of how women reacted to immunization, if framed through expectations of proper maternal behavior. However, these materials can also help us understand the specific anxieties and concerns that women faced in making healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. Notably concerns and rumors over kidnapping, debt, and enslavement remained a latent threat that influenced how Black and Indigenous mothers made sense of this new technology, prompting many to seek out the vaccine through channels they could trust. Dr. Yero’s talk will draw on collections of the NLM History of Medicine Division, including institutional regulations and vaccination guides from the Spanish Americas, to analyze women’s responses and the broader politics of care in this watershed in the history of medicine. By looking back at the moment when vaccination first became a possibility, we can reflect on the legacies of its racialized and gendered history and consider how vaccines might help reimagine future worlds rather than remake colonial pasts.Close Close All Open All
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 recipientRead More
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.
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John Mathew, PhD—Associate Professor of History of Science, Humanities & Social Sciences & Sciences, Krea University, Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, IndiaRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
Michele C. Weigle, PhD—Professor, Department of Computer Science, Old Dominion UniversityRead More
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.Close Close All Open All
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.
All talks are free and until further notice will be held virtually, 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.
Stay informed about NLM History Talks on Twitter at #NLMHistTalk.
Last Reviewed: January 11, 2022