UTSIC Website Active!

I’m pleased to announce that the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection Website is now active! The first post is an essay, “A Short History of the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, written by Erich Weidenhammer (IHPST, University of Toronto) & Michael Da Silva (University of Toronto Faculty of Law). The post is a reprint of the original article, published in the “Opinions” section of Spontaneous Generations vol 4, no.1 (2010) 255-261.

UTSIC has lots planned for contextualizing the various instruments in the collection and breathing life into their stories (of the historical past). Posts on the homepage will provide a narrative overlay about the UTSIC collection, the instruments, as well as the institutional history of science and technology at the University of Toronto.


Monday Series: A Disease with no Remedy II



Jan Steen (1626-1679). The Doctor's Visit (1658-1662). Oil on panel. 49 × 42


The word “tuberculosis” was not introduced as a classification term until 1834 by the German physician Johann Lukas Schönlein (1793-1864),[1] though it was first used by the British physician Richard Morton (1637-1698) in 1689. Commonly named by the medical community as “phthisis,” or “consumption,” signifying the wasting characteristics of the chronic disease, this “white plague” was the single largest killer of all adults in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and served as a representation of the heightened sensibility idiosyncratic of an enlightened culture of “high-living.”[2] Often at odds with reality, phthisis was a chronic, symptomatic disease without a distinctive cause, and as a result, “its nonepidemic nature also increased its appeal for the enlightened, since the patient was able to die individually, not amidst the countless dead.”[3] However, as David Barnes points out, the illness was not merely a metaphor, “not just a sign through which social relations or anxieties expressed themselves.”[4] It was a real disease that killed real people and despite descriptions of romantic imagery and snobbish aspirations towards sensibility, it was a disease that doctors struggled to cure.

In 1720, English physician Benjamin Marten (1704-1782) wrote, “of all the Distempers that afflict Mankind, there’s not one, for the Cure of which more Remedies have been appropriated and invented than a Phthisis, or Consumption of the Lungs.”[5] In the search of remedies, William Lambe (1765-1847) agrees “the treasures of nature have been exhausted by the experiments of benevolence, or the audacity of empiricism.”[6] Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808) echoed similar words in 1803: “For the treatment of consumption…a great deal more remains to be done than to add to the mass of unexceptionable evidence, lately produced. No uniform method, and no single medicine is capable of effecting a cure in all the cases, referred to any denomination of disease.”[7] The long incubation period and occasionally asymptomatic nature of phthisis, along with its flexible and complex etiological model, led physicians to concentrate on developing cures for visible symptoms.

A mixture of medicine and dietetics were advised for consumptive patients, with an emphasis on proper diet, since “the patient in general should…eat food of easy Digestion”[8] to limit any obstructions in the bodily fluids. Edward Barry (1696-1776) advocated a popular milk diet, which he believed to be the “most fit to repair the great Decays of Consumptive Persons.”[9] Although Marten agreed with the theoretical benefits of a milk diet, he noted that he not “been able to discern such good Effects from it, in a true Phthisis, as to merit its being rely’d on for Course.”[10] Other physicians were more particular about outlining a dietary regime for consumptives. Philip Stern, for example, outlines a diet that allows a consumptive to “eat as often as he has an appetite, but never much at a time.”[11] No eggs or other animal foods were allowed, although a small quantity of veal or chicken broth was acceptable if the patient was weak. In addition, “potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsneps, beans, spinach, broccoli, fallets, bread and rice” was to constitute the general bill of fare, along with almond milk, barley water, or milk and water.[12]

Combined with diet, medicines were recommended to promise relief for the consumptive, “as they defend the Blood from the purulent Matter mixed with it and are mild and penetrating, as not to obstruct or irritate the Lungs in passing through them.”[13] Samuel Foart Simmons (1750-1813) advised the use of the elixir of vitriol, Peruvian bark, balsams, and periodic bleeding, and notes that “the use of blisters and issues, opiates, a milk and vegetable diet, exercise, and change of air, are pretty generally recommended by all.”[14] Other symptomatic cures, such as emertics, catharites, sorbefacients, epispastics, sudorifics, expectorants, demurcents, narcotics, suppuratories, astringents, tonics, angostura, lichen, were also advised. Beddoes in particular was fond of the foxglove. There were also other unique treatment methods. Many physicians advised Thomas Sydenham’s recommendation of country air and horseback riding. Lambe was fond of distilled water,[15] and Simmons wrote about “earth bath,” an old and common remedy in Genada and some parts of Andalusia.[16]


[1] E. Lomax, “Hereditary or Acquired Disease? Early Nineteenth Century Debates on the Cause of Infantile Scrofula and Tuberculosis.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 32 no.4 (Oct. 1977), 357. Prior to the closing decades of the nineteenth century, phthisis was commonly believed only to afflict in pulmonary forms; the presence of the tubercule bacillus in other parts of the body proved that tuberculosis was prevalent as other diseases, particularly in scrofula, or King’s Evil.

[2] Historian Margaret DeLacy explicates that though there was a large numerical increase in deaths from consumption, this does not mean that more deaths were statistically attributed to consumption due to any fundamental change in the concept of the disease; one does not suggest the other, though it may raise questions for historical analysis. M.DeLacy, “Nosology, Mortality, and Disease Theory in the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 54 (April 1999), 266.

[3] C. Lawlor and A. Suzuki, “The Disease of the Self: Representing Consumption, 1700-1830,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 74 (2000). 465. Roy Porter also provides an excellent description of the effect of Enlightenment ideology in the social perception of consumption, in particular, the ways in which the culture of sensibility affected diets and social habits. See his paper,. “Consumption: Disease of the Consumer Society?” in Consumption and the World of Goods. Eds. John Brewer and Roy Porter (London & New York: Routledge, 1993), 58-81.

[4] D. Barnes, The Making of a Social Disease: Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 19.

[5] B. Marten, A New Theory of Consumption: More especially of a phthisis, or consumption of the lungs…(2nd Ed.) (London: Printed for R. Knaplock, 1722), 75.

[6] W. Lambe, A Medical and Experimental Inquiry into the Origins, Symptoms, and Cure of Constitutional Diseases; Particularly Scrophula, Consumption, Cancer, and Gout (Illustrated by Cases) (London; J. Mawman, 1805), 8.

[7] T. Beddoes, Observations on the Medical and Domestic management of the Consumptive: On the Powers of Digitalis Purpurea and on the Cure of Schrophula (New York: Penniman and Co., 1803), 4-5.

[8] Marten, A New Theory of Consumption, 142.

[9] E. Barry, A Treatise on the Consumption of the Lungs with a Previous Account of Nutrition, and the Structure and Use of the Lungs (London: Printed for William & John Innys, 1727), 260.

[10] Marten, A New Theory of Consumption, 145.

[11] P. Stern, Medical Advice to the Consumptive and Asthmatic People of England (16th ed) (London: J. Almon, 1776), 29.

[12] Stern, Medical Advice to the Consumptive and Asthmatic, 30.

[13] Barry, A Treatise on the Consumption of the Lungs, 262.

[14] S.F. Simmons, Practical Observations on the Treatment of Consumptions (London: J. Murrary, 1780), 31.

[15] Lambe, A Medical and Experimental Inquiry, 21.

[16] Simmons, Practical Observations on the Treatment of Consumptions, 78.

Free Public Talk: “Supporting the DIY Citizen”

The Knowledge Media Design Institute is hosting the opening event for the DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media Conference on Thursday November 11, 2010, 5-7 pm at the Tanz Neuroscience Building, 6 Queen’s Park Crescent, West (enter through the side door). The event is FREE and open to the public, but you need to RSVP in order to help us figure out catering numbers (RSVP here).

Here’s some information on the speakers:

Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California and the former co-director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. He is the author or editor of 13 books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Democracy and New Media. He blogs at henryjenkins.org. His accomplishments as a public intellectual include speaking to the Federal Communications Commission, the United States Senate Commerce Committee, and the Governing Board of the World Economic Forum, as well as writing a white paper for the MacArthur Foundation on participatory culture and learning.

Corynne McSherry specializes in intellectual property and free speech litigation, with representative cases including Chamber of Commerce v. Servin, et al (trademark parody), Lenz v. Universal (copyright misuse), and MoveOn.org et al. v. Viacom (copyright misuse), as well as numerous amicus briefs on trademark, copyright and patent issues.  She regularly comments on fair use, free speech and innovation on radio and television, including NPR, CNBC, CBS, and Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, and in news publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, the Boston Globe, CNET News, and Wired News, as well as numerous legal publications.  Prior to joining EFF, Ms. McSherry was a litigator at Bingham McCutchen, LLP, and wrote Who Owns Academic Work?: Battling for Control of Intellectual Property (Harvard University Press, 2001).

Should be super awesome–come and check it out!

UofT Workshop: Visual Representation in Science

Aaron is organizing a fantastic workshop to be held at IHPST in December. There’s a great list of speakers and promise of a scintillating discussion. If you’re interested in attending, drop Aaron an email. I’ve had this event penciled in my agenda since I first heard of it–truly excited for this!

Survey Says…

First off, a big heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the survey and to those that passed on the survey link all over the blogosphere, posted on their blogs, and through various listervs. Special thanks goes to Michael for all his twitter feeds linking the blog and for assisting me when I needed help. Thanks!

70 individuals responded to Part A: Bloggers and 36 responded to Part B: Readers. Some answers confirmed my hypotheses (e.g. readers making use of hyperlinks), others were surprising (e.g. more visuals and commentary current events?).

I’ve kept the survey active for the time being, in case any new readers or people hearing about the survey for the first time choose to take it (it was only active for 2 weeks before I posted the results).

Click here to view the survey.