Monthly Archives: November 2013

Wellcome Unit Seminars, 02/12/13

The last seminar of the term…

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

‘Structures of Medical Knowledge’
Conveners: Drs Erica Charters and Elise Smith

Week 8 – 2 December
Vanessa Grotti, University of Oxford
Sociality and Healing within the Medical Missions among the Trio of Suriname and Brazil
Based on historical documents and ethnographic data such as autobiographical narratives, this paper retraces the history of the establishment of two medical missions among an Amazonian people, the Trio, who live straddled across the Suriname-Brazil border. I will compare and contrast the early history of the two missions, which were run respectively by Franciscan brothers in Brazil and by North-American Protestants in Suriname, and analyse the forms of social relations that Amerindians and missionaries developed and nurtured in and around the health post.

Vanessa Grotti is a social and medical anthropologist with field experience in South America and interested in the history of contact, sedentarisation and change among native Amazonian populations, with a special focus on the body, personhood and wellbeing. She has been working with Central Carib populations living in Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil for over a decade, and has published on a range of topics covering shamanism, conversion to Christianity, trade and objects, primary healthcare, extractive industries and human security.

Her current project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is a comparative history of Protestant and Catholic medical missions among the Trio (Tiriyó) in Suriname and Brazil (1959-1994). The principal aim of this project is to reconstruct the histories of two primary healthcare systems in Amazonia by comparing their activities among a single transnational indigenous group. Among the Trio, whose territory straddles the border between Suriname and Brazil, health posts were established independently in each country from 1959 by Catholic and Protestant missionary organizations. Both systems were later secularized and incorporated or taken over by the State. The impact of this research will be to provide insight into different approaches to primary healthcare in Amazonia, where both missionary and secular agencies continue to contact isolated peoples.

She also manages a John Fell OUP Research Grant (2011-2014) on ‘Giving birth in an Amazonian gold rush: a survey of indigenous motherhood and healthcare practices surrounding pregnancy and birth among the Wayana (French Guiana and Suriname)’. This smaller project is a survey of the experience of childbirth among indigenous Wayana mothers on the headwaters of the Maroni River, which forms the border between French Guiana and Suriname. Its purpose is to document the native point of view on the design and provision of antenatal and neonatal care, and the ways in which biomedical healthcare practitioners interact and communicate with indigenous expecting mothers, in both village and hospital environments.


Wellcome Unit Seminars, Monday 25/11/13

‘Structures of Medical Knowledge’
Conveners: Drs Erica Charters and Elise Smith

Week 7 – 25th November

Sophie Vasset, Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7

Queen Anne’s Seventeen Pregnancies and her Treatment for Barrenness

Sophie Vasset studied at the University of Orleans, and the research institute Anglophones Charles V – Paris 7 in double degree with the Russian (INALCO). She began her thesis under the direction of Frederick Ogée on medicine and fiction in Britain in the eighteenth century at the University of Marne-la-Vallée. She received a Fulbright scholarship to Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Lavoisier scholarship to Oxford French House.

At the University Paris-Diderot, she studies eighteenth-century British medicine and literature. She is currently working on narrative and health, medical polemics, and on the cultural history of infertility.

More specific areas of interest include: inoculation, pain, health and prevention, blood-letting, madness and eighteenth-century illness narratives (gout, stone, smallpox, syphilis, hypochondria, hysteria).

She is a member of the research project on early modern controversies, AGON, and of the board of administration of the French Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (SFEDS).

Selected Publications:

  • Décrire, prescrire, guérir: médecine et fiction dans la Grande Bretagne du XVIIIe siècle, Collection de la République des Lettres, Montréal, QC, Presses de l’Université Laval, 2011. This book won the SAES/AFEA prize 2012.
  • The Physics of Language in Roderick Random, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.
  • Medicine and Narration in the 18th century, SVEC 04: 2013, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2013.
Queen Anne and William, Duke of Gloucester by studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller

Queen Anne and William, Duke of Gloucester by studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller



McGovern Lecture, TODAY 21/11/13

Green Templeton’s annual lecture in the history of medicine.

Thursday 21 November, 6pm

Speaker: Professor Christoph Gradmann, Department of Community Medicine, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo.

This lecture is on the historical origins and the popularity of ‘Koch’s Postulates’.

Rather than Robert Koch, it was his colleague Friedrich Löffler who in 1884 wrote down the well-known three steps of isolation, cultivation and inoculation as conditions for establishing a microbial aetiology of an infectious disease.

These postulates are frequently invoked in textbooks of medicine and medical history. Yet, strict adherence to them is rarely to be found in medical research. Already their assumed inventor, Koch, produced numerous variations in his own methodology. Underlying his work was a sort of trivial ontology of infectious diseases which rendered an experimental study of human pathologies in animal models practical and meaningful.

There were many ways to pursue this end and Koch usually limited his discussion to practical questions related to the course that investigations had to take, while principal matters were only treated implicitly in his writings. Löffler’s achievement was to popularise Koch’s views in his postulates.

Given that, it is not surprising that references to Koch’s postulates in the 20th century usually refer to the spirit rather than the literal meaning of the postulates. Also there are countless variations of those postulates. For example, proponents of virology or molecular medicine devised variations of Koch’s postulates that serve to relate their own work to classical bacteriology. The latter is perceived as the origin of modern experimental medicine. The nature of such references is less historical than anecdotal: referring to a historical event that has never happened in a strict sense, these references produce ex traditione credentials for experimental medicine.

Christoph Gradmann is Professor in the History of Medicine at the University of Oslo Institute of Health and Society. His research focuses on the history of infectious disease in modernity (19th century to the present).

He is the author of a biography of the German physician Robert Koch (1843-1910) and many articles on related aspects of the history of bacteriology and medical research. His current work is on infectious disease from the end of the 20th century to the present, including antibiotic resistance, nosocomial infections, and emerging infections.

Venue: E P Abraham Lecture Theatre, GTC.

All welcome. No need to register – just turn up.

LECTURE: Oxford Medical Firsts – Celebrating 800 Years of Oxford Medicine

The Wellcome Unit’s Writer-in-Residence,  Conrad Keating, will be delivering a lecture to accompany the new Bodleian Libraries Exhibition, Great Medical Discoveries – 800 Years of Oxford Innovation. The Exhibition runs from 22nd November 2013 to 18th May 2014.

Conrad will be delivering his lecture, entitled Oxford Medical Firsts – Celebrating 800 Years of Oxford Medicine on two separate dates. You can hear it in the Bodleian Convocation House on Wednesday 27th November, at 1pm, then again at the Training Room of the Radcliffe Science Library on Monday 2nd December at 2pm. The lecture is scheduled to last for half an hour.

For the Bodleian event, booking in advance is recommended, as places are limited.

Though booking is not necessary for the Radcliffe Science Library talk, you will need a University card to enter the building. For any queries, please contact Juliet Ralph

Wellcome Unit Seminars, 18/11/13

‘Structures of Medical Knowledge’
Conveners: Drs Erica Charters and Elise Smith

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

Week 6 – 18 November
Roderick Bailey, University of Oxford
“My Oath! My Oath! I can’t do that kind of thing!” – Doctors and the Special Operations Executive: A Case Study of Medicine and Clandestine Warfare.
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British organisation set up early in the Second World War to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage behind enemy lines. Drawing on recently declassified files and private papers, this paper discusses the various forms in which professional medical personnel assisted with SOE’s unique line of unconventional warfare. Those who contributed ranged from psychiatrists employed in the selection of prospective agents, to surgeons who performed identity-altering facial surgery, to military medical officers dropped into enemy territory to work beside resistance movements.

This week’s seminar is given by the Unit’s own Roderick Bailey. Roderick is a military historian specialising in the study of resistance, intelligence and clandestine warfare.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, his current research examines how Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a clandestine Allied organization set up in the Second World War to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage behind enemy lines, addressed the impact of the psychological stresses to which its operatives were exposed. It explores the processes by which candidates were recruited and screened for this high-risk, high-strain, unconventional employment, which included the application by professional psychologists and psychiatrists of pioneering procedures of testing and assessment, and the degree to which those processes were effective in identifying personnel able to cope and work well in the field. It also examines the procedures in place for diagnosing and treating survivors who returned with psychological problems.

Selected publications

SOE and Mussolini’s Italy (Faber & Faber, 2014) (forthcoming)

The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle (Jonathan Cape, 2008)

‘Communist in SOE: Explaining James Klugmann’s Recruitment and Retention’ in N. Wylie (ed.) The Politics and Strategy of Clandestine War: Special Operations Executive, 1940-46 (Routledge, 2007) pp.66-89. Also in Intelligence and National Security 20/1 (2005) pp.72-97.

SOE Logo

SOE Logo

Wellcome Unit Seminars, Monday 11/11/13

‘Structures of Medical Knowledge’
Conveners: Drs Erica Charters and Elise Smith

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

Week 5 – 11 November
Seth LeJacq, Johns Hopkins University
Reading the Sodomitical Body: Medical and Lay Body Evidence in English Homosexual Sex Crimes Trials, 1700-1850
This paper examines the legal contributions of both medical and lay witnesses relating to homosexual sex and the bodies of “sodomites” and the sodomized in England in the long eighteenth century. It argues that medical evidence played a limited role in prosecutions, while vernacular body knowledge was of much greater importance. This vernacular knowledge reveals the ways in which “nameless offenses” were understood in straightforward, universal, and easily-understood and -explained terms.

Seth LeJacq is a PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University. He has a BA from Cornell University, where he wrote an honors thesis for the History Department on the British Holocaust denier David Irving. His dissertation research deals with the history of the British Royal Navy from the late 17th century through the 1840s. He is using the records of the navy’s judicial system to explore the body history and vernacular bodily knowledge of sailors, and is focusing in particular on trials for sexual offenses. His work also seeks to contribute to the history of homosexuality.

He is the author of the Roy Porter Student Prize Essay The Bounds of Domestic Healing: Medical Recipes, Storytelling and Surgery in Early Modern England.

The Pillory for a Molly

A Molly in the Pillory, 1763