History of Medicine Reading Group

IHPST at University of Toronto hosts several reading groups on various HPS topics. This year, I’m organizing and hosting the History of Medicine Reading Group, to be held on Thursdays 2:30-3:30 at Gerstein Library. If you’re a UofT student or scholar and are interested in joining, please send me an email. A schedule will be determined shortly, but most likely we’ll meet once or twice a month for the academic year.

This year’s selection is: Mark Jenner and Patrick Wallis (eds), Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c.1450-c.1850 (2007).

What was the medical marketplace? What is a ‘medical marketplace’? This book provides the first critical examination of medicine and the market in pre-modern England, colonial North America and British India.

Chapters cover the most important themes in the social history of medicine from the fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, addressing healthcare in town and country, among rich and poor, women and men, and examining both patients and practitioners. Drawing on recent developments in the history of exchange, they offer new understandings of the ways in which diverse aspects of healthcare operated and changed in this period of social and economic transformation.

Each chapter offers significant new interpretation of its field based upon a critical examination of the applicability of the medical marketplace model and presents substantial new research in an accessible style.

Chapters are as follows:
* Introduction–M.S.R.Jenner & P.Wallis
* Medical Economies in Fifteenth-Century England–R.Ralley
* Competition and Cooperation in the Early Modern Medical Economy–P.Wallis
* The Rural Medical Marketplace in Southern England c.1570-1720–I.Mortimer
* Magic, Alchemy and the Medical Economy in Early Modern England: The Case of Robert Fludd’s Magnetical Medicine–L.Kassell
* The Marketplace of Print –M.Fissell
* Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern ‘Medical Marketplace’–E.Leong & S.Pennell
* Midwifery in the ‘Medical Marketplace’–A.Wilson
* Illness in the ‘Social Credit’ and ‘Money’ Economies of Eighteenth-Century New England–B.Mutschler
* Medical Marketplaces beyond the West: Bazaar Medicine, Trade and the English Establishment in Eighteenth Century India–P.Chakrabarti
* Monopoly, Markets and Public Health: Pollution and Commerce in the History of London Water 1780-1830–M.S.R.Jenner
* Medicine, Quackery and the Free Market: The ‘War’ Against Morison’s Pills and the Construction of the Medical Profession, c.1830-c.1850–M.Brown

If you have any questions, please email me.

Four Days in Paris

I had the great pleasure to participate in the “Fitting for Health: The Economy of Medical Technology in Europe and its Colonies, 1600-1850” conference, held in Paris at the École normale supérieure and the Académie nationale de médecine. The aim of the conference was to bring together a variety of scholars working in various historical periods and geographical areas to explore and discuss the history medical technologies.

As outlined in the mission statement, the conference was to address two major issues:

The medical “life of things”
What was considered instrumental to medicine ? Patients and practitioners have used a wide variety of tools – trusses, plasters, forceps, cutting knives, herniary bandaging, electrical devices, baths, orthopaedic machines, models, tools for diagnosis, up to plants transformed into medical commodities or “medicines”. Some were similar to devices that are still in use today ; others have fallen into oblivion, thus challenging medical museums’ curators who wish to present them before the public. What were the technologies of the early modern patient and practitioner – surgeons, midwives, barbers, nurses, etc. ? To what extent did the early modern medical equipment contribute to the management of health, by patients and/or practitioners and to the redefining of medical knowledge and know-how ? What type of medical trades did they help to set up or to challenge ? How did tools and commodities help redefining medical work ? How did they get into use, and how did they circulate among the medical community ?

Medical technologies, industry and commerce.
How were the products conceived and marketed ? How was the production of medical instrumentation organized ? To what extent had the trade recourse to patenting, the expert evaluation of academies, such as the Académie royale de chirurgie ? Which industrial trades and production sectors did it bring together ? How was it funded ? Did medical instruments’ makers exploit new channels for the retailing of their instruments — such as nineteenth-century French industrial fairs — or use old ones ? What were the routes of medical instruments to individual practitioners, public charities, national armies or to the colonies ?

Over the course of two days, speakers presented and discussed topics on: the supplies of the medical trades; the social context of medical instrumentation; medical marketing; and the consumption and production of medical technologies. The central focus of these papers was based upon the metaphor of the medical marketplace, and each speaker presented an interesting case study attempting to understand the medical economy and management of healthcare. For instance, by examining the case study of a particular drug—whether it’s Peruvaian bark, coca leaves, or quinquina in general—we end up taking about a kind of historical geography of the transference of medical ideas and products across colonies. Botanical expeditions, as narrated by Samir Boumedine (École normale supérieure Lettres et sciences humaines (Lyon)), affected the material conditions of the use of drugs, as did their availability, as outlined in Grégory Bériet’s (CRHIA, Universités de Nantes/ La Rochelle) presentation on how quinine shortage affected and encouraged applied research in naval medicine.

The issue of space was also a theme addressed in the presentations. Claire Jones (University of Leeds) discussed how the close proximity of pharmaceutical companies and surgical instrument-makers to London hospitals declined by 1880, in part to changes to the world economy and national trade; the transformation of these relations had a profound effect on the making of trade catalogues. In a different sense of space, François Zanetti’s (Université de Paris 10-Nanterre) presentation on “electric baths” raises wider questions on the nature of public and private interest in medical technologies; for instance, these baths were often quite large, and needed rearranging of household furniture, rearranging private space and making it public as neighbors visited to use or inspect the baths.

Materials and innovations, common to the history of technology scholarship, were also raised—Chris Evans and Alun Whitey (University of Glanmorgan) discussed steel-using artisans and examined the design of instruments, their manufacturing and marketing. I discussed the intentions of aurists in their making of auriscopes and other aural instruments, taking into consideration how authority and identity played a pivotal part in the presentation of their instruments. Other papers also examined the marketing strategies, creating discourse on how economical and commercial aspects of medicine reconfigured the promotion and adaptation of technologies. Several important issues—such as the “branding” of medical instruments, or the place of quackery, were also raised and discussed.

The conference was housed the first day at the École normale supérieure and the second day at the breathtaking Académie nationale de médecine. I forgot my camera the first day but remembered it the second, and managed to take some shots:

Session Room
Laennec's Stethoscope, displayed in the Reception Hall
Display of Surgical Instruments
A few "toy soldiers"

After the conference, participants were invited to take a tour of an anatomy theatre; but alas, since I had an early flight, I didn’t attend. Oh well, maybe next time. The highlight of the conference for me? Meeting and chatting with Colin Jones, whose “le Grand Thomas” paper has long been my favorite piece of historical writing!

Navigating the History of Science Blogosphere

I’m writing a piece for the History of Science Society fall newsletter about history of science/medicine blogs and blogging on the blogosphere. It seems lately this has been a hot topic for discussion on the ‘net, especially after the New York Times Article which outlines possible web-alternatives to peer-review. Last year, our favourite history of science blogger, Michael D. Barton, gave a talk at the annual HSS meeting in Phoenix as part of the Committee on Education session, Teaching the History of Science Using the Web. Recently, fellow IHPST students Aaron S. Wright and Jonathan Turner continued the dialogue on posting academic content online. Also, recall Sage Ross and Michael Robinson‘s comments on my post about the internet protecting (as opposed to exposing) original academic records.

There’s something to be said here. A lot of academic bloggers I know blog about their academic lives, research ideas, provide advice, or just provide links to interesting articles around the web to read. In his talk, Michael also showed the results of his informal online survey to popular histofsci bloggers, and one of the question dealt with the content posted:

3. Is your blog specifically a history of science blog, or another blog which has history of science content?

Hos specifically: 8; HoS content: 12

4. Initally, why did you start your blog?

Sharing content (8), research (7), science communication (2), political commentary (2), networking (1), online reference (1), “It just happened!” (1)

For me, sharing content and research are only one of my main reasons for blogging; establishing my place in social media networks is another (especially for future job prospects and technology).

I do wonder: is there a history of science community on the blogosphere? There’s one on Twitter, with folks that advocate and support each other ideas as well as their own (#histsci), but they are all bloggers, or at the very least, individuals interested in the history of science. Is being a blogger a necessary requirement for participating in this community?

I started off my interest in the role of blogging back when I was frustrated about not being able to quickly or properly find great history of medicine blogs. I ended up spending hours and hours and hours…and hours surfing through the internet, and eventually managed to get a decent list of history of medicine and history of science blogs (which you can see on the links section on the right-hand part of the website). Michael also compiled a list of updated history of science blogs and twitter accounts.

I want to go back to the question I asked in my original post on history of science blogs: is there a strong readership for histofsci blogs? Who reads these types of blogs? Particularly, how often do historians make use of blogging sites?

I want to direct you, Dear Reader, to take five minutes out of your busy day and complete this very informal survey. Your assistance is greatly appreciated and I will post results after September 20.


A video was posted on YouTube which shows the violent arrest of a deaf man suspected of shoplifting at the Forever 21 store on Hollywood Boulevard. Apparently the deaf man failed to stop when the alarm went off as he exited the store. As you can see in the video, the man’s friend tries repeatedly to communicate with the security guards and tell them that they have a receipt for their purchase and that the man is deaf and cannot hear them.

Obviously, I’m not a witness, but the video clearly shows a breakdown in communication. I’ve never really been a strong advocate for Deaf Rights–or any other political issues, really–but this bothers me on the same level the outrageous police force during G20 in Toronto bothered me.

You can see the video here.


Photo Credit: Steve Russell, The Toronto Star

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

An overused quote, but fitting, I believe, for this fury brewing inside of me as a result of the G20 Summit, protests, and injustice that occurred in Toronto this weekend. Just to point out, due to work and family obligations, I was not at the front lines—but I was an avid spectator and experienced the events through the lens and words of my friends, Facebook and Twitter, live feeds and news blogs. I must finish a ridiculously overdue paper first,but then I imagine I’ll have a longer post discussing my perspectives on the G20 incidents–and trust me, there’s so many of them that only the local media managed to capture.

EDIT: this issue bothers me too much. After spending too many hours chatting, discussing, and debating on Twitter, Facebook, and reading blog after blog, I need a breather. This troubles me to such an extent–especially knowing that a good friend of mine was essentially kidnapped by the police–and occupies so much negative space in my mind, I need to step away. I have deadlines to meet and right now, I think I should be focusing on them.