Preprint Articles

Skin and Disease in Early Modern Medicine: Jan Jessen’s De cute, et cutaneis affectibus (1601)

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Posted: 
Thursday, June 4, 2020
Summary: 

This article examines skin and disease in early modern medicine through the writings of the little-known Bohemian physician Jan Jessen (1566–1521). In 1601, Jessen published De cute, et cutaneis affectibus, a set of twenty-one theses dedicated to the question of whether skin disease existed. In considering Jessen and his relationship to a broader world of writing, this article makes three arguments. First, it suggests that, contrary to existing historiography, the question of skin disease was a common sixteenth-century concern. Second, it posits a professional channel for this concern, which arose from surgery and disease, rather than from anatomy and physiology. Finally, rather than positioning Jessen at the forefront of discovery, I suggest his text functions as a representative case study. It allows us to see material change in medicine within a stable Galenic framework.

Phantom Menace: Dengue and Yellow Fever in Asia

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Thursday, June 4, 2020
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This article explores the entangled histories of dengue and yellow fever. It traces how historical conflations of these diseases deepened at the start of the twentieth century in the context of rising fears that yellow fever might spread to Asia. Advances in biomedicine, I suggest, reinforced notions of their kinship and generated competing theories that dengue either foreshadowed yellow fever in Asia or inoculated the region against it. This history in which the language and science of dengue and yellow fever shadowed one another offers a nonlinear narrative of scientific progress. Furthermore, as the so-called neglected tropical diseases resurge in the present, it elucidates how disease threats are read against one another. Thus, the article offers a historical context to ongoing discussions on disease emergence and pandemic preparedness.

St. Luke’s Hospice: Prioritizing Comfort, Not Cure, in the Hospital Setting

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Posted: 
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
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The American hospice movement arose in the 1970s as an alternative to standard hospital care for terminally ill patients, emphasizing symptom management and psychological and spiritual care. St. Luke’s Hospice of New York City was an outlier in this movement. While other hospices sought to distance themselves from the preexisting healthcare system for fear of its corrupting influence, St. Luke’s sought to transform the system from within. While other hospices ultimately accommodated state and federal regulations for terminal care, St. Luke’s tried to survive outside of this newly regulated space. This examination of St. Luke’s Hospice complicates the preexisting narrative of the hospice movement as a countercultural movement that was subsequently corrupted by integration into mainstream healthcare. It also demonstrates opportunities and challenges in trying to change the structure and culture of the acute care hospital.

Electroconvulsive Therapy in the Shadow of the Gas Chambers

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020
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Six years after it was first introduced into psychiatry in 1938, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) became the subject of criminal human experiments in Nazi Germany. In 1944, at the Auschwitz III / Monowitz camp hospital, the Polish Jewish prisoner psychiatrist Zenon Drohocki started experimental treatments on prisoners with an ECT device that he had constructed himself. According to eyewitnesses, Drohocki’s intention to treat mentally unstable prisoners was turned into something much more nefarious by SS doctors (including Josef Mengele), who used the device for deadly experiments. This article provides an account of this important and little-known aspect of the early history of ECT, drawing on an extensive array of historical literature, testimonies, and newly accessible documents. The adoption of ECT in Auschwitz is a prime example of the ‘grey zone’ in which prisoner doctors had to operate—they could only survive as long as the SS considered their work useful for their own destructive purposes.

No Time for Statistics: Joseph Lister’s Antisepsis and Types of Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century British Surgery

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Posted: 
Monday, August 31, 2020
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This article documents Joseph Lister’s reluctance to publish numerical material and aims at explaining his skeptical view about statistics through an investigation of his approach in its historical context. In this context, statistics was only one kind of evidence used in surgery, along with case histories and experimental results from the laboratory. They represent different “ways of knowing,” anchored in different social, conceptual, and practical contexts. The account looks at Lister’s approach to wound disease and analyzes how this relates to his attitude toward different types of evidence about surgical outcomes. For this, it also examines his contemporaries’ approaches to fighting wound disease as well as their evaluation of different kinds of evidence. This article is a contribution to the history of Lister’s antisepsis, but also to the history of the production and use of therapeutic knowledge in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century surgery more generally.