Monthly Archives: November 2016

Lecture: Malaria and the War beyond the Western Front

Who this event is for?

Glass Tank, Abercrombie, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site

Date and Time
Tuesday, 29 November 2016, 16:00 to 17:30

Public Lecture with Professor Mark Harrison, Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

This lecture will examine the British Army’s fight against one of its most implacable foes – the mosquito.  In most theatres apart from the Western Front, malaria was an enormous drain on morale and military efficiency.  It was by no means the only disease that led to heavy losses in theatres such as Salonika and the Middle East, but, along with venereal disease, it proved to be one of the most intractable.  Wartime conditions worsened what was already, in many locations, an unfavourable situation as far as health was concerned. Preventive measures proved ill equipped to deal with these conditions, especially when troops were on the move.  All armies suffered badly but ideas of racial immunity to malaria were used to justify the replacement of white troops in some theatres with ‘native’ troops from Britain’s imperial territories.  This raised political tensions in territories such as India.  The lecture will also consider the legacy of the war.  The influx of many foreign troops, the destruction of infrastructure, and population displacement had a deep and enduring impact on the health of civilians.

About the speaker
Mark Harrison
is Professor of the History of Medicine and Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Oxford.  He has written on many aspects of the history of disease and medicine in relation to war and imperialism.  His books include The Medical War: British Military Medicine in the First World War (2010) and Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War (2005), both of which won the Templer Medal Book Prize awarded by the Society for Army Historical Research.  He currently holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award entitled, ‘Invisible Crises, Forgotten Histories: Malaria in Asia, 1900-Present’.

For further information, please contact: Tudor Georgescu (

This seminar is organized in collaboration with The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum and the Centre for Medical Humanities

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Seminar 8: ‘William James and “the laws of health” in nineteenth-century America’

‘William James and “the laws of health” in nineteenth-century America’

The eighth and final HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 28th November (Week 8) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Emma Sutton.

Sutton’s central research interest is the history and philosophy of concepts of health. Her PhD thesis examined this topic from a biographical perspective, looking at the American philosopher and psychologist William James’s explorations of different understandings of health and their social, philosophical and religious contexts: ‘Re-writing the laws of health: William James on the politics and philosophy of disease in nineteenth-century America.’ Sutton’s post-doctoral research extends her focus further into the twentieth century and explores the links between child-rearing ideas and practices and concepts of psychological health.

The nineteenth-century American philosopher and psychologist William James is known for his writings on the physiological study of psychology, the psychology of religion, and as one of the founders of the philosophical school of pragmatism. His work, whilst well-respected by his professional colleagues, also received an extremely wide popular dissemination, and contemporary scholars have probed his writings in an attempt to discern his political message to the masses. In this seminar, Sutton argues that James’s politics do not fit easily within conventional academic concerns with the categories of class, gender and race. Instead she proposes that James was occupied with what may be characterised as a politics of invalidism and health; a response to the growing and, as he saw it, increasingly disturbing cultural authority of medical concerns, values and normative expectations. She will explore how James’s ethico-political manifesto may be read as a reaction against both the hygienic guidelines for healthy living, “the laws of health”, and also the state legislation that aimed at restricting therapeutic practices to the orthodox medical profession.

We hold two primary texts by William James at the Wellcome Unit Library: the first, a (well-loved) copy of William James : a selection from his writings on psychology (WMA/Jame/K), edited with commentary by Margaret Knight. It contains extracts from several of James’ works, including Principles of Psychology – proclaimed by the blurb as ‘one of the greatest books on the subject in any language’. James, the book says, ‘begins at the beginning, and he deals with fundamentals (…) in a way which keeps the reader in a continual state of intellectual excitement, amusement and surprise’. We also hold Psychology (BF131.J2 JAM 1920), an abridgment made by James of the Principles in order to make it more accessible to the student of psychology.











William James’ work lies within a wider narrative of psychology and psychiatry, and Edward Shorter’s A history of psychiatry : from the era of the asylum to the age of Prozac (RC438 SHO 1997) helps to give James’ work a backdrop, as well as briefly discussing him in a study of the American origins of psychoanalytics. James was a contemporary of Freud, corresponding with the Austrian neurologist and sharing some of his influences. As such, Freud’s converts by Vicki Clifford (BF51.C55 CLI 2007 and online) is another relevant title to consider, and considers the relationship psychotherapy has with religion.










More general works on public health in America include Sickness and health in America : readings in the history of medicine and public health by Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers (R151 SIC 1985), which offers a comprehensive overview of the social history of medicine in the US. Tying into some of the themes Sutton will be examining, Faith in the Great Physician : suffering and divine healing in American culture, 1860-1900 by Heather D. Curtis (BT732.5.C88 CUR 2007) offers an examination of the politics of sickness, health and healing during the nineteenth century.










Emma Sutton has published several journal articles, and access is available for university members to one such article, ‘Interpreting “Mind-Cure”: William James and the “Chief Task…of the Science of Human Nature”’, at this URL:

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: from (image in public domain)

Talk: Accelerating the Diagnosis of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: using a Combined Genetic and Computational Approach

What: Accelerating the Diagnosis of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: using a Combined Genetic and Computational Approach

Who: Philip Fowler

When: 13.00—14.00, Tuesday 22 November 2016

Where: Weston Library Lecture Theatre (map)

Access: all are welcome

Admission: free

Booking: registration is required

The discovery of antibiotics in the middle of the 20th century helped reduce the number of deaths from infectious diseases globally. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics has inevitably led to bacteria developing resistance. It is vital, therefore, that doctors know which antibiotics can (and which cannot) be used to treat a patient with a bacterial infection, such as Tuberculosis (TB).

At present, a sample taken from the patient is sent to a laboratory, usually in a hospital, where the bacteria are grown and then different antibiotics administered to see which ones are effective. For a slow-growing bacterium like TB this process can take around a month. The incredible rate at which gene sequencing has got faster and cheaper now means that researchers, including the world-leading Modernising Medical Microbiology (MMM) group here at the University of Oxford, are beginning to replace the lab-based method with a genetics-based method.

This talk will describe this shift from lab-based to genetics-based microbiology that is happening in our hospitals and look at new methods that aim to predict the effect of individual mutations in TB genes.

Philip Fowler is a Senior Researcher working in the Modernising Medical Microbiology group at the John Radcliffe Hospital which is part of the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford. He is a computational biophysicist and his research focusses on using computer simulation to understand and predict how proteins and small molecules, like antibiotics, move and interact with one another. Philip blogs and is active on Twitter, @philipwfowler.


Opening hours w/b 21 November 2016

Next week our opening hours are:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 2.15pm-5pm
Wednesday: 2pm-4:30pm

As always, please contact us if you would like to visit the library. We hope you have an amazing weekend. It’s getting chilly, so wrap up warmly and don’t forget your Beetham’s Glycerine and Cucumber cream – keep your complexion radiant the 19th century way!

L0029207 Beetham's Glycerine and Cucumber Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Beetham's glycerine and cucumber: For frost, cold winds and hard water. A lady skates on a frozen lake, wrapped up warm in a winter coat and furs. Drug advertising ephemera. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0029207 Beetham’s Glycerine and Cucumber
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images;
Beetham’s glycerine and cucumber: For frost, cold winds and hard water.
A lady skates on a frozen lake, wrapped up warm in a winter coat and furs.
Drug advertising ephemera.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Seminar 7: ‘Antibiotics as infrastructure: rehearsing a counterfactual of convalescence’

‘Antibiotics as infrastructure: rehearsing a counterfactual of convalescence’

The seventh HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 21st November (Week 7) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Clare Chandler.

Chandler’s interests lie in the application of anthropological methods and critiques to health care and public health policies and programmes. She is interested in the implementation of technologies as ‘tools’ in global public health, for example by studying the social lives of RDTs as they meet, shift and expose patient, health care provider, health system and donor agendas. She is interested in the development of methods to design interventions which aim to improve health care and methods to understand and interpret how such interventions are enacted, absorbed, resisted and appropriated in the everyday lives of implementers and recipients. Her primary sites of research are among health care providers and care seekers (in public, private and community settings) in Tanzania and Uganda. Chandler currently holds a Seed Award from the Wellcome Trust to research how anthropological theory can be productive in conceptualising antimicrobial resistance and efforts to address this issue.

Concerns over antibiotic resistance reemphasise the centrality of antibiotics for maintaining the health of current and future populations. Since their mass production, antibiotics have been considered essential to human health care. Current apocalyptic discourses of the loss of antibiotic efficacy due to mounting resistance draw attention to the impact for future individuals who may face fatal consequences of infections now considered minor thanks to antibiotics. In this seminar, Chandler will argue that current responses to resistance allow us to see how the significance of antibiotics goes beyond health. She will explore how these substances can be considered as infrastructure socially, politically and economically, and will trace a hypothetical example of convalescence to illuminate the spaces, connections and frameworks that antibiotics currently hold together. From this perspective, more nuanced and mundane futures for living without antibiotics may become apparent.

One of the most pertinent and interesting titles the Wellcome Unit Library holds concerning this topic is The antibiotic era : reform, resistance, and the pursuit of rational therapeutics by Scott H. Podolsky (RM267 POD 2015). This recent work contains a history of antibiotics, focusing particularly on efforts to change how they are developed and prescribed, and examining the irrational usage and overprescription that has contributed to antibiotic resistance in infectious bacterial pathogens. The Wellcome Trust in London has a seminar transcript which the library also holds, discussing changes in attitudes towards antibiotics: Post penicillin antibiotics : from acceptance to resistance?, edited by E. M. Tansey and L. A. Reynolds (R131.A2 POS 2000). It reviews the problem of antibiotic resistance, and the mechanisms that transfer this resistance.










Robert Bud’s Penicillin : triumph and tragedy (RM666.P35 BUD 2007) also looks at this problem, moving from post-war optimism about infectious diseases and their eradication to the emergence of ‘superbugs’ following antibiotic abuse. Looking at one specific disease, Magic bullets to conquer malaria : from quinine to qinghaosu by Irwin W. Sherman (RC159.A5 SHE 2011) contains one chapter of particular relevance: ‘Reversal of Fortune’, which explains resistance in more detail (though its language is quite scientific in nature).










If you are unfamiliar with history of medicine from an anthropological point of view, we have titles that you may find a useful introduction. A reader in medical anthropology : theoretical trajectories, emergent realities, edited by Byron J. Good (et al.) (GN296 REA 2010) is a very broad work containing a collection of essays that represent key themes in the field of medical anthropology, examining how societies grapple with questions about the meaning of illness, suffering and death. Marcia C. Inhorn and Peter J. Brown’s The anthropology of infectious disease : international health perspectives (RA643 ANT 1997) offers a more focused anthropological perspective on the sources, consequences and treatment of infectious diseases.











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:  L0059573 Credit: Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images
British Standard penicillin was defined as one milligram of penicillin containing 1,600 International Units. An International Unit is defined as the potency or activity of a drug. The standard was set by the National Institute for Medical Research. International Standards were set in 1944 and in 1952. Standardisation of drugs such as penicillin is important to ensure the quantity and quality produced and given to patients is consistent all over the world.

Maker: National Institute for Medical Research
Place made: London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom, 1946
Collection: Wellcome Images; Library reference no.: Science Museum 1984-1086

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Talk: “Cholera and the Politics of Disposability in Harare’s High-Density Townships”

African Studies Centre Seminar Series: “Cholera and the Politics of Disposability in Harare’s High-Density Townships”

Thursday 17 November – 5pm

Pavilion Room, St Antony’s College, Oxford

Speaker: Simukai Chigudu (University of Oxford)

“In August 2008, the impoverished high-density townships in Harare’s metropolitan area were engulfed by a devastating cholera epidemic. The disease rapidly spread throughout Zimbabwe resulting in an unprecedented 98,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths, thereby becoming the largest and most extensive cholera outbreak in recorded African history. In the aftermath of the epidemic, questions of suffering, rescue, relief, and rehabilitation have persisted beyond the fixed scientific and statistical realities of disease epidemiology, body counts, and reconstruction costs. Rather, they have continued to exist in on-going processes of meaning-making through which people grasp and come to terms with the epidemic as a socio-political event. In Zimbabwe’s divided and contentious political environment, this involves polarised claims about what really happened and about who the heroes and villains of the outbreak were. In this presentation, I focus on the views of residents in the townships where the epidemic first fulminated. I ask how residents of Harare’s high-density townships understood and experienced the cholera outbreak in terms of Zimbabwe’s larger social, economic, and political dynamics. By examining the narratives of township residents, I suggest that the retelling of experiences of the outbreak is significant not only for bringing hitherto undocumented narratives to light, but also for what such retelling says of those narrators themselves and for the way that the social construction of the cholera disaster occurs and is committed to historical memory.”

Simukai Chigudu is a DPhil candidate in International Development at the University of Oxford, where he holds a Hoffman-Weidenfeld Scholarship. He has an eclectic academic background having received training in Medicine at Newcastle University, Public Health at Imperial College London and African Studies at the University of Oxford. Simukai has previously worked and conducted research in Zimbabwe, Uganda, The Gambia, Tanzania and South Africa. Prior to taking up his studies at Oxford, he worked as a medical doctor in the UK’s National Health Service.

Millie Oates and Jordan Hankinson, Admin Team

African Studies Centre, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies

University of Oxford, 13 Bevington Road, Oxford OX2 6NB

Web: Twitter: @AfricaOxfordUni


Seminar 6: “A midwife should be welcoming”

‘“A midwife should be welcoming”: personality, midwives, and shifting perceptions of healthcare in Uganda, 1918-1979’

The sixth HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 14th November (Week 6) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Kathleen Vongsathorn.

Vongsathorn’s research project focuses on the role of gender in the perception, spread, and adaptation of biomedicine and biomedical knowledge in twentieth-century Uganda. While women rarely appear in formal medical reports generated within Uganda, biomedically trained women outnumbered men in mission medical institutions.  Much of the provision of and teaching about biomedicine in Uganda was in the hands of women missionaries, or in the hands of the Ugandan women that they trained.  The first formalised biomedical training programmes for women in Uganda were midwifery schools, and these midwives staffed a network of maternity and child welfare centres that stretched across the country.  The main goal of these centres was to reduce maternal and infant mortality, but while infant mortality has been drastically reduced over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, maternal mortality rates in Uganda are still very high, in large part because even today, only 57 percent of women in Uganda have ‘skilled’ assistance in their deliveries.  There are a variety of reasons that so many women give birth without a biomedical professional attendance, but significant among them is many women’s – or their relatives’ – reluctance to deliver in health centres.

Drawing on interviews with midwives, traditional birth attendants, and community members in Uganda, and on hospital, mission, and government records, the seminar will discuss the reasons why women have chosen to engage with biomedical services while pregnant and delivering babies, why they have chosen not to, how those choices have changed (or not) over time, and why.  Specifically, it will focus on the role of the midwife’s ‘character’, or behaviour, in encouraging and discouraging women from coming to biomedical health centres for antenatal care and for deliveries.  For many Ugandans, especially in rural areas, midwives were the first point of contact with biomedicine, and this paper explores changing ideas about health and health seeking behaviour through these women and their social presence in communities.

Vongsathorn is a former doctoral student of the Wellcome Unit, and as such we hold a copy of her D.Phil. thesis in the library, shelved under her surname on the theses shelf in Library Room 1. The work is titled, ‘Things that matter’: missionaries, government, and patients in the shaping of Uganda’s leprosy settlements, 1927-1951, and the abstract can be read here in the Oxford Research Archive.

The Unit Library also holds several monographs specifically concerning the subject of healthcare in Uganda. We have a copy of a survey prepared for the Medicine and Public Health in Africa section of the Oxford Development Records project, entitled The medical services of Uganda in 1954-1955 (RA552.U33 BUL 1984) and written by Mary Bull, and this has a small section on nurses and midwives (p.42-43). The report provides a factual snapshot of the state of medical services during one particular year. A more general account on a period of difficulty in Ugandan health services can be found in Crisis in Uganda : the breakdown of health services (RA552.U4 CRI 1985), edited by Cole P. Dodge and Paul D. Wiebe. The work examines how Uganda went from having one of the most highly-developed health services delivery systems in Africa at its independence in 1962 and into the early 1970s, to being one of the world’s least developed nations following a period of troubles.











Our header image for this week’s post comes from Uganda memories, 1897-1940 (R722.32.C66 A38 COO 1945), which is a memoir by Albert R. Cook, a British-born medical missionary in Uganda who established a maternity training school in the country. The image depicts maternity students in 1921. Chapter 27 of the book, ‘Mortality and Infant Welfare’, is of particular interest, discussing midwifery and infant mortality. The Lady Coryndon Maternity Training School is pictured below.uganda-hospital









The professionalisation of African medicine (GN645 PRO 1986), edited by Murray Last and G. L. Chavunduka widens the study of the changes and developments in African biomedicine to a continental level. The work is a collection of articles exploring the relationship between African governments and traditional healers, never previously organised, and the associated problems of African medicine. Chapter 6 is pertinent for the themes of this week’s seminar: ‘Prospects for the Professionalisation of Indigenous Midwifery in Benin’.











For other titles specifically concerning midwifery, shelfmarks in the range RG940-991 cover the subject of maternal care and prenatal care services. One such title is Midwives, society, and childbirth : debates and controversies in the modern period (RG950 MID 1997 and online via SOLO), edited by Hilary Marland and Anne Marie Rafferty. The articles contained in the volume examine midwives’ lives and work in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the study of biomedical care in another developing country – that of rural India – and of women’s experiences of birth and infant death there, Where there is no midwife : birth and loss in rural India (RG965.I4 PIN 2008) by Sarah Pinto is an interesting read. It touches upon themes of caste, emotion, domestic spaces, illicit and extra-institutional biomedicine, and household and neighbourly relations.











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!

Talk: The History of Intoxication


The eminent historian Phil Withington will be speaking at the Literature and Medicine seminar this Thursday (10th November) about the history of intoxication. The talk will take place at Green Templeton College, 43 Woodstock Road, at 6.15pm, and promises to bring festive spirit aplenty.