As one of the most popular medieval plague treatises produced during the Second Plague Pandemic, John of Burgundy’s tract offers an excellent example of how medical books changed over time and place: in their material formats (such as manuscript to print), their textual contents and meanings, the people involved in their production, their readership, and sometimes even their purpose. The seemingly formulaic structure and medical contents of plague tracts has contributed to a long-standing perception that they were largely static or even ahistorical, one treatise easily exchanged for another. However, by examining copies of the treatise as individual and unique productions, rather than simply seeing the apparent uniformity of a few exemplars (or even the entire genre), we can begin to trace the itineraries through which they traveled and the rich tapestries of change that mark their life stories.
Sleeplessness was a quotidian yet challenging problem for medical practitioners in Britain and America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While physiologists endeavored to unravel the secrets of sleep by examining the brain, in the clinic doctors looked to the gut as a site through which sleeplessness was both caused and cured. This article explores the gut-brain axis in medical literature on sleep and sleep loss in this period. It argues that despite the lack of a coherent understanding of the gut-brain connection, the digestive system was central to how physiologists and clinicians approached sleeplessness. It employs Victorian physician Joseph Mortimer Granville’s (1833–1900) concept of “visceral consciousness” to better understand the varied and often contradictory explanatory constellations that emerged to elucidate the role of digestion in sleeplessness.
The Rockefeller Commission for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in France played a key role in public health reforms in post–World War I France. In May 1920, one of the commission’s traveling units whose goal was to bring health education to the French departments toured the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. This article discusses this ten-day campaign as a trigger for comprehensive public health reforms in Luxembourg. By the 1920s the steel industry had become the country’s dominant economic sector, with the conglomerate Arbed as the main employer in constant need of a healthy workforce. A group of Luxembourgian anti-tuberculosis activists, spearheaded by the wife of the country’s foremost industrialist, tried to benefit from the Rockefeller projects in France. Throughout the following decades, Luxembourgian anti-tuberculosis activists maintained close contacts with French experts. This article traces the transnational circulation of public health knowledge in the interwar period and elucidates Luxembourg’s geostrategic repositioning after World War I.
This essay considers the pursuits and occupational trajectory of the Parisian anatomical modeler Marie Marguerite Biheron (1719–95), who was celebrated for her anatomical cabinet. It highlights the role of Biheron’s circle of friends and supporters in nourishing her place in the anatomical world. I argue that a focus on social and affective relations, such as friendship, can enhance our understanding of the careers of female medical practitioners and medical artists like Biheron. Her case provides a useful vantage point to reconstruct how a woman, who could not rely on the support of her family nor, for most of her life, on royal patronage, could successfully engage in anatomical practice and become renowned. Casting further light on early modern economies of care, Biheron’s story also helps illuminate the broader significance of amicable and affective relations in the histories of medicine and natural inquiry.
This article explores the brief American fascination with acupuncture anesthesia, a technique in which needling was used in place of, or in combination with, chemical anesthetics during surgery. In 1971, a series of American medical delegations began traveling to China to observe the procedure and gauge its viability. While some of these physicians were optimistic about the technique’s therapeutic possibilities, others were antagonistic to its feasibility in an American context. Previous studies have explained the quick rise and rapid delegitimization of acupuncture anesthesia by invoking the professional interests of biomedical doctors. In contrast, this article rethinks the history of the procedure by casting it against the backdrop of the Cold War. In discussions about the legitimacy of the technique, assumptions about race, communist politics, and Cold War bipolarity were omnipresent, causing acupuncture anesthesia to become a synecdoche for the promises and perils of Chinese communism writ large.
This article explores the medical politics of the second iteration of Ku Klux Klan in the United States. As eugenics gained a foothold in America at the turn of the twentieth century, the Klan embraced the latest in scientific racism to lend legitimacy to their cultural, political, and economic goals of white supremacy. Klan physicians in particular held a vested interest preserving a racialized medical hierarchy and promoting reproductive surveillance in public health. By the 1920s, a symbiotic relationship developed between the organization and the medical profession. The Klan relied on its member physicians to lend professional respectability to the organization and scientific legitimacy to its agenda. In turn, affiliation with the Klan gave physicians an opportunity for career advancement and provided the muscle to intimidate professional and political opponents.
In 1979, the U.S. Congress approved funding for an outpatient, community-based “readjustment counseling” program to be overseen by the Veterans Administration (VA) and accessible to those who had served in the military during the era of the war in Vietnam. Today, three hundred Vet Centers are located throughout the country and their doors are open to veterans of a variety of conflicts; they outnumber VA hospitals two to one. This article explores conditions undergirding the establishment of the first Vet Centers and the program’s broader implications, as well as the general issue of why public health systems change over time. Highlighting dynamics of how the VA gradually “deinstitutionalized” in the mid-twentieth century, it focuses on trends related to war and health, notions of federal responsibility, health activism and rights of people from marginalized groups, and connections between political ideology and medical diagnoses and treatment.
This article proposes a new line of enquiry in the history of animal conservation by suggesting that African wildlife protection was a form of public health in the early twentieth century. Through examining the activities of South African epidemiologists, politicians, bureaucrats, farmers, and zoologists in the 1920s and 1930s, the author argues that wildlife was integrated into epidemiological strategies and agricultural modes of production. Against the backdrop of a series of plague outbreaks, carnivora once deemed “vermin” were legally protected as sources of human health and agricultural wealth. As public health, food security, and carnivore populations were imbricated, the categorical boundaries between human and animal health also began to blur. Ultimately, this case suggests the need to bridge environmental and medical history and to broaden the history of environment and health beyond canonical figures such as Rachel Carson. Paying attention to colonial “peripheries” and African thought is critical in understanding the origins of twentieth-century environmentalism.