Jaipreet Virdi is a historian of medicine and technology. Her research and teaching interests include the history of medicine, science and technology studies, the history of deafness, and material/visual culture studies. She received her Ph.D. from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto (2014), where she completed her dissertation, “From the Hands of Quacks:” Aural Surgery, Deafness, and the Making of a Specialty in Nineteenth-Century London. 

The dissertation traces the development of British aural surgery, a subset of medicine concentrating on diseases of the ear, and how the field was one of the varied ways British culture intervened with the “problem of deafness.” Historical accounts of aural surgery suggest its early practitioners were all quacks and frauds. This perspective is challenged by demonstrating that between 1810 and 1860, aurists struggled to claim the legitimacy of their specialty by counteracting against claims of medicine’s ineffectiveness to cure deafness. Analyzing the nature of specialty-building, her dissertation looks at various challenges these practitioners (called “aurists”) faced in their quest for surgical authority: from educators for the deaf who resisted surgical and medical intervention for pupils; intra-professional strife and rivalries; accusations of quackery from the broader medical market; and the general difficulty of observing and diagnosing ear diseases. A primary analytic focuses concentrates on technologies as an integral to the formation of surgical authority and identity.

Virdi received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from York University (Toronto) and a M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Toronto. She has held a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, working with Sabine Arnaud’s research group, “The Construction of Deafness in Western Europe and the United States (17th to 19th Centuries).” 

Her blog, From the Hands of Quacks, explores a diversity of topics relating to the history of medicine, the history of deafness, and disability history. The title of the blog derives from the otologist Joseph Toynbee (1815-1866), who infamously declared (according to some historians) that he planned to “rescue aural surgery from the hands of quacks.”

A key focus of FTHOQ is to bridge a historical understanding of deafness and the “medicalization” of the deaf by going beyond modern technological “cures” (such as the cochlear implant), to examine the historical role and conflict between medicine and social efforts to cultivate the isolated deaf for social integration.

Be sure to also “Like” the From the Hands of Quacks page over on Facebook for a daily dose of all things related to the history of medicine and the history of disability. Virdi can also be found on twitter: @jaivirdi