Monthly Archives: October 2016

Seminar 4: ‘The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases’

‘The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial
ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases’

The fourth HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 31st October (Week 4) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Cesar Giraldo Herrera.

Dr Herrera is a biologist and an anthropologist from the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. He received his PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Aberdeen for the dissertation Sweet Dreams Rocking Viking Boats, Biocultural Animic Perspectivism through Nordic Seamanship. Currently, he is a Victoria Maltby Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College, and he is working on the manuscript for a book entitled Microbes and other spirits: Crossroads of microbiology and Amerindian shamanism. The work traces early records of Amerindian health and environment management systems, showing their continuing strands of thought and demonstrating how they anticipated and influenced the theory of contagion, the ontological theory of disease, the notion of ecological community and antibiotics.

Syphilis, yaws and pinta are diseases that feature prominently in some of the earliest accounts of Amerindian medical knowledge and mythology. These diseases, the way they were understood by Amerindians and their treatments drew the avid attention of European missionaries, chroniclers and historians in the years that followed the first contacts. According to these records and to the oral traditions of some enduring communities, these diseases were and are starring characters of their myths origin. They are the protagonists of the earliest recorded versions of the myth of the Sun and the Moon; a myth, which albeit with profound variations, is widely distributed throughout the Americas. It narrates the events that led to the origin of the celestial bodies, of diseases that caused their spots, and of crucial cultural practices like fishing, cultivation, pottery or metallurgy. This paper examines myth and knowledge associated with it as records of a biosocial ethnohistory. It addresses the social interactions between and beyond humans portrayed by the early accounts of the myth and how these interactions could have influenced the development of these diseases. It also explores how the biological understandings of the disease may contribute to the interpretation of the meaning and symbolism of the myth.

Having blogged for Week 2’s seminar on state-supported treatment for venereal diseases, you may be concerned that the Wellcome Unit Library has exhausted its suggested reading on syphilis. Thankfully, this is not the case: we’ve plenty more where that came from! Starting with Sex, sin, and science: a history of syphilis in America by John Parascandola (RC201.5.A2 PAR 2008), which explores the spread of the ‘Great Pox’ in the U.S. from the time of Columbus and colonization to post-World War II treatment. Within the first chapter, Parascandola touches upon the mythologies Dr Herrara is interested in: the tale of the shepherd Syphilus (pictured in the header image) who blasphemed the Sun-God:

He first wore buboes dreadful to the sight,
First felt strange pains and sleepless past the night;
From him the malady received its name.1

Deborah Hayden also explores Columbus and America in Pox: genius, madness, and the mysteries of syphilis (RC201.47 HAY 2003). The first three chpaters of this title are particularly relevant: ‘Christopher Columbus: The First European Syphilitic?’, ‘The Revenge of the Americas’ and ‘A Brief History of the Spirochete’. All of the books in the RC 201 section are about syphilis, so other titles in this area may also be of interest.










Several works held in the library focus specifically on the biological repercussions of the conquest of the New World. Noble David Cook examines the effect deadly Eurasian sicknesses had on Amerindians and vice versa in Born to die : disease and New World conquest, 1492-1650 (E59.D58 COO 1998). The consequences of the introduction of the bacterial spirochete Treponema pallidum (which triggers venereal syphilis, pinta and yaws) into Europe are interspersed across this narrative of disease. Another useful text on this subject, which also discusses pintas and yaws, is the essay ‘Pre-Columbian Treponematosis in Coastal North Carolina’ by Georgieann Bogdan and David S. Weaver, which appears in Disease and demography in the Americas (E59.A5 DIS 1992), edited by John W. Verano and Douglas H. Ubelaker. The essay looks at skeletal material and what it can tell us about treponemal infections.











For more general medical explanations of the nature of the lesser-known diseases of yaws and pinta, two websites which can provide further information are the World Health Organisation’s page Yaws: A forgotten disease  and an article by Larry M. Bush and Maria T. Perez for Merck Manual, Bejel, Pinta, and Yaws.

And finally, an early work on the sun and moon disease myths can be found in Richard Mead’s 1712 essay Of the power and influence of the sun and moon on humane bodies; and of the diseases that rise from thence, which is accessible online via SOLO.

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

1. Fracastoro, quoted (in English translation) in Parascondona, from Rosebury, Micorbes and Morals, p.33

Header image:     L0031325 Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus being warned against yielding to temptation with the danger of infection with syphilis. Engraving by Jan Sadeler I after Christoph Schwartz, 1588/1595.
Engraving 1588-1595 By: Christoph Schwartz after: Jan Sadeler. Published: [s.n.],[Munich] : [1588/1595]. Size: platemark 24.1 x 30.5 cm.
Collection: Iconographic Collections. Library reference no.: ICV No 51428
Full Bibliographic Record Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue:
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0:


Seminar: Behind the Mask: WW1, Plastic Surgery, and the Modern Beauty Revolution

Behind the Mask: WW1, Plastic Surgery, and the Modern Beauty Revolution
(Oxford Art History Research Seminars)

hoa_mt_3127 October 2016, 17:00 (Thursday, 3rd week, Michaelmas 2016)
Littlegate House
16-17 St Ebbe’s Street OX1 1PT (see map)
History of Art Lecture Theatre 2nd Floor

Speaker: David Lubin (Wake Forest/Oxford, History of Art)
Organising department: Department of the History of Art

Booking not required. Members of the University only.

Torch logo

Seminar 3: ‘Medical expertise, professional authority and homicide in nineteenth-century Edinburgh’

‘“Upon my word, I do not see the use of having medical evidence here”: medical expertise, professional authority and homicide in nineteenth-century Edinburgh’

The third HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 24th October (Week 3) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street and will be delivered by Kelly-Ann Couzens.

Kelly-Ann’s thesis examines the changing role, impact and significance of medical testimony and medical expertise in criminal trials for violent crimes at the Edinburgh High Court of Justiciary, from the 1820s to the turn of the twentieth century. She predominantly focuses on the contributions and testimony made by those deemed forensic medical “experts” and the historical insights that can be gleaned from a detailed examination of their involvement in criminal trials in this period. In order to focus on the medical “expert”, her research investigates the cases of violent crimes which involved four individuals who held the Regius Chair of Medical Jurisprudence and Medical Police at Edinburgh University at different intervals across the period surveyed: Sir Robert Christison, Thomas S. Traill, Sir Douglas Maclagan and Sir Henry D. Littlejohn. She seeks to understand how important the evidence and contribution of the ‘medical expert’ was to major criminal cases, and in what ways the significance of the medical expert’s role was mediated by the nature of public, judicial and medical responses to criminal trials. The contribution of her thesis to the history of medico-legal relations is aided by the unique case study Edinburgh provides during this period, allowing the study of entrenched links between law, medicine and the university system, and an examination of the nature of what defines forensic medical expertise in these contexts.

A quick tour through the Wellcome Unit Library’s resources on this subject begins with works that take a broad view of forensic medicine. For an international and comparative perspective on the changing relationship between medicine, law and society, Katherine Watson’s Forensic medicine in Western society : a history (RA1022.W47 WAT 2011) is a structured examination of the growth of medico-legal ideas. In Surgeons at the Bailey : English forensic medicine to 1878 (RA1022.G7 FOR 1985), Thomas Rogers Forbes divides his study of the topic into detailed examinations of various offenses such as injuries from sharp and blunt instruments, homicides of children, and poisoning, looking at a large number of court cases from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.










Works by Butler and Burney take a closer view of more narrow time frames in forensic medicine. To better understand the early role of the coroner in criminal trials, Forensic medicine and death investigation in medieval England by Sara Butler (RA1022.G3 BUT 2015 and online access from Bodleian Libraries computers) provides a good analysis of medieval medical investigation and attitudes towards inquests. Ian Burney’s focus is closer to that of Couzens: in Bodies of evidence : medicine and the politics of the English inquest, 1830-1926 (RA1053 BUR 2000), he is also interested in the role of the scientific expert in the coroner’s inquest, and the work representatives of progressive medical science did to align the inquest’s methodology with a medical model of investigation.











Medical accounts of insanity in the Victorian era offer an interesting variation on this topic. Thomas Mayo’s 1853 lectures and essay provide in insight into contemporary thought on the relationship between the law and mental illness: Medical testimony and evidence in cases of lunacy : being the Croonian lectures delivered before the Royal College of Physicians in 1853 ; with an essay on the conditions of mental soundness (RA1151 MAY 1854). Roger Smith’s Trial by medicine : insanity and responsibility in Victorian trials (KD7897 SMI 1981) looks more closely at the insanity plea, and the contentious issue of responsibility and guilt in the case of mentally unsound defendants.











Two of the physicans Couzens has examined as part of her research, were well-known for their practice of forensic medicine and popular courtroom appearances, have writings available online through SOLO: A treatise on poisons in relation to medical jurisprudence, physiology, and the practice of physic by Robert Christison, and Outlines of a course of lectures on medical jurisprudence by Thomas Stewart Traill.

Another electronic resource which may be of interest is the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674-1913, containing proceedings from 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court. The database is fully searchable, and the search form offers the ability to select trials for particular offense – for example ‘killing > murder’, which may yield more relevant results for a focus within this field.

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

Header image:
L0077977    Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Plate 15, Figure 101. Murder the Result of Various Injuries Inflicted with Different Instruments. Illustration, Tab. 15.
From: Atlas of legal medicine / von E. von Hofmann ; authorized translation from the German, edited by Frederick Peterson, assisted by Aloysius O.J. Kelly. 1898. Published: W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia: 1898. Plate 15. Size: 19 cm. Collection: General Collections
Full Bibliographic Record Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue:
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence – image modified (rotated and text moved) in accordance with copyright terms: 

ArgO-EMR Seminars (Anthropology Research Group at Oxford on Eastern Medicines and Religions)

unioxflogoUniversity of Oxford
School of Anthropology
51 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PE


ArgO-EMR Seminars
The Anthropology Research Group at Oxford on Eastern Medicines and Religions

Wednesdays 5–6.30pm
Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road
Michaelmas Term 2016

“Botanical Ontologies in Asian Medicine”

Week 1,   12 Oct        Jan M.A. van der Valk
(School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent)
Testing Tibetan materia medica scientifically: Hybrid ontologies in practice?

Week 3,   26 Oct        Dr Calum Blaikie
(Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Re-routing rhizomes: Himalayan plants and properties in transit

Week 5,   9 Nov        Dr Stephan Kloos
(Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Reassembling Sowa Rigpa:
From traditional culture to plant-based knowledge industries

Week 7,   23 Nov        Manuel Campinas
(London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
A comparative exposition of Chinese and Russian botanical ontologies

Convenors: Elisabeth Hsu and Paola Esposito,


Seminar 2: ‘Sex, health and state-supported treatment for venereal diseases in England, 1918–39’

‘Sex, health and state-supported treatment for venereal diseases in
England, 1918–39’

The second HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 17th October (Week 2) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street and will be delivered by Anne Hanley.

venereal-diseaseAnne Hanley is a Junior Research Fellow of New College, Oxford. Her research interests are in healthcare and welfare during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with closely related themes in gender, political and economic history. She has written a soon-to-be-published monograph, Medicine, Knowledge and Venereal Diseases in England, 1886–1916, which contributes to broader debates in the social history of medicine and the sociology of scientific knowledge. The book focuses on an age before penicillin and the NHS, when developments in pathology, symptomology and aetiology were transforming clinical practice, and systematically examines how doctors, nurses and midwives grappled with new knowledge and laboratory-based technologies in their fight against venereal diseases in voluntary hospitals, general practice and Poor Law institutions.

In 1916 the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases laid down a comprehensive series of recommendations, representing the first systematised state intervention for three decades to prevent the spread of infection among civilians. What followed were free, universal healthcare provisions for persons suffering from syphilis and gonorrhoea. At the heart of this new scheme was a nation-wide network of clinics, which offered unprecedented diagnostic and therapeutic services while also promising confidentiality for infected persons. Anyone could access any clinic in any part of the country. Patients could walk in off the street or they could be referred by a GP for treatment. Between 1918 and 1939, these clinics saw thousands of patients, many of whom had previously fallen through the cracks of an over-stretched and under-resourced healthcare system. This seminar considers the organisation, objectives and accessibility of the new clinics. It charts some of the many ideological, political, institutional, administrative and infrastructural stumbling blocks faced during their early years—from their initially fraught relationship with hospitals, to the lack of adequately trained medical officers to staff the clinics. Importantly, the seminar also attempts to understand the experiences of patients who, although suffering from diseases that carried significant moral and social stigma, sought out these new state-supported services.

At the Wellcome Unit Library, we hold a range of material relating to venereal disease and its surrounding topics. For a wide-ranging history of venerealogy, J.D. Oriel’s The Scars of Venus: a history of venereology (RC201.4 ORI 1994) is a helpful starting point. Claude Quétel’s The History of Syphilis (RC201.4 QUE 1992) specifically tracks the progress of one disease in history, and Quétel (translated by Braddock and Pike) here ‘chronicles five centuries of medical detective work and official management of a virulent disease that quickly became a cultural phenomenon’.











Allan M. Brandt’s No Magic Bullet: a social history of venereal disease in the United States since 1880 (RC201.47 BRA 1987) focuses the study of this area of history of medicine on America, moving ‘From Victorian anxieties about syphilis to the (…) hysteria over AIDS’. As with Oriel’s work, Brandt’s endpoint is the reawakening of panic over sexually transmitted disease in a post-HIV climate, despite advances in modern medicine seemingly giving an optimistic outlook by the middle of the 20th century,










For an exploration of the moral and ethical stances surrounding venereal disease, including attempts to ‘police’ the spread of the diseases, two monographs are of particular use: Dangerous Sexualities: medico-moral politics in England since 1830 by Frank Mort (HQ32 MOR 2000, and also available online), and Prostitution, Race & Politics: policing venereal disease in the British Empire (HQ185.A5 LEV 2003) by Philippa Levine. Mort examines attitudes towards sex and sexual choices with relation to venereal disease, while Levine gives an account of the blame laid on prostitutes for spreading infection among soldiers and sailors in colonial sites.











For source material concerning the enactment of post-war governmental efforts to fight venereal disease, we hold a pamphlet produced by the Office of Health Economics in 1963, entitled The Venereal Diseases (RC200 OFF 1963), which is intended to inform the public, and contains attendance statistics on the clinics Anne Hanley will be exploring the role of in her seminar. The header image of this blog post is its cover image: the fifth picture from Hogarth’s series ‘The Harlot’s Progress’. Social Service in the Clinic for Venereal Diseases by Dorothy Manchée (HV687 MAN 1943) also looks at these clinics, and is targeted at social workers.











Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research.



UPDATE: A late addition to the list – we always welcome further suggestions, in this case via Twitter! Roger Davidson and Lesley Hall’s  Sex, sin and suffering : venereal disease and European society since 1870  is a series of studies on the social history of venereal disease in modern Europe and its former colonies, and can be found at RA644.V4 SEX 2001.

Seminar: Troubled Minds: “Madness”, Fear and Colonial Exclusion in Saint-Domingue

Early Modern Worlds Seminar, Thursday 13 October, 11.15 am

History Faculty, George St., Oxford

All welcome

Troubled Minds: “Madness”, Fear and Colonial Exclusion in Saint-Domingue

Marie Houllemare (Amiens)

By looking in depth at 38 other legal cases of insane free men from the French Caribbean colonies in the 18th century, this paper deals with the way “madness” was described, interpreted and dealt with in Saint-Domingue. What was labelled as mad in St-Domingue was in most cases a disruptive behaviour favoured or generated by slavery society and translated into European medical and legal languages. This legal category crystallised several patterns of troubling conduct but generated only one legal answer: systematic exclusion of troublesome people identified as mad.

CFP: Doctor-Doctor: Global and Historical Perspectives on the Doctor-Patient Relationship



An interdisciplinary symposium, Friday 24 March 2017, TORCH, University of Oxford

Keynote Speaker: Dr Anna Elsner, University of Zurich

Call for Papers

“Two distinct and separate parties interact with one another – not one mind (the physician’s), not one body (the patient’s), but two minds and two bodies.”

– Jay Katz, The Silent World of Doctor and Patient (1984)

The doctor-patient relationship is the primary way that we experience medicine: we go to the doctor when we are may be sick, or are scared of becoming sick. Healthcare is constructed around encounters between practitioners and patients, and the relationship between them is integral to how medicine is practised, experienced, and represented around the world. It may be paternalistic or a partnership of equals, underpinned by acts of care and compassion or negligence and abuse.

In a one-day symposium on Friday 24 March 2017, we will explore the different ways in which encounters between medical practitioners and patients have been imagined or conceptualised across different historical and cultural contexts.

How has our understanding of these interactions been affected by factors such as scientific and technological advances, urbanisation, and increased patient demand? By interrogating these idiosyncratic and complex personal and professional relationships, how can we better understand broad themes, such as the professionalisation of medicine or the politics of identity? The doctor often tells us a great deal about the patient: but what can the patient tell us about the doctor?

We encourage proposals for 20-minute papers from scholars with an interest in medical humanities working across different disciplines, e.g. arts, humanities, social sciences, and medicine. While papers on the history of medicine in British and North American contexts are welcome, we would also like to hear from scholars working in languages other than English, and on areas of the world beyond Britain and North America.

Possible topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Representations of practitioners and patients in literature, visual arts, and film;
  • Different types of medical practitioners, e.g. nurses, dentists, midwives;
  • History of emotions: the affect of the medical encounter;
  • Whose voice? Patient narratives and case histories;
  • Living with diseases of the age: nervous attacks, melancholia, hysteria, shell-shock;
  • Doctors, patients and identity politics: gender, sexuality, race, class;
  • Professionalisation, power and authority;
  • Experiencing and/or practising colonial, imperial, and indigenous medicine;
  • Medical encounters in the institution: hospitals, workhouses, prisons, asylums;
  • Psychiatry and mental health;
  • Medicine, the state, and its citizens;
  • The material culture surrounding doctor-patient relationships.

Proposals should be no more than 300 words in length and a short biography should be included in addition. Please submit them to Sarah Jones (Oriel College, Oxford) and Alison Moulds (St Anne’s, Oxford) by 30 November 2016.

This one-day symposium is funded by The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) through a Medical Humanities Programme Grant and the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Constructing Scientific Communities.