Category Archives: Collections

New Books: Medical Students and Left-Handers!

Our new books received in the last month include studies on medical education in Ireland, diagnostic practices in Victorian asylums, medical technology and public health in former Soviet regions, malaria in 19th-century India, and the history of left-handedness.

See our full range of new titles on LibraryThing:

Laura Kelly, Irish medical education and student culture, c.1850-1950 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2017)
‘The first comprehensive history of medical student culture and medical education in Ireland’ over this hundred-year period. Using sources including periodicals, literary works, administrative records, and first-hand written and spoken accounts, Laura Kelly looks at the academic and extra-curricular experiences of students, how these experiences shaped their identities as medical professionals, and how they were perceived within their wider communities. The book also highlights divisions of religion, class and gender within this medical sphere.

Olga Zvonareva, Evgeniya Popova & Klasien Horstman (eds.), Health, technologies, and politics in post-Soviet settings: navigating uncertainties (New York, NY: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2017)
The introduction to this edited volume begins with a trend recognised by studies of science and technology; politics and healthcare mutually shape each other, and instead of bringing certainty through the solutions they offer, new medical technologies often stimulate ‘the emergence of new questions and dilemmas’ (p. 3). This uncertainty is multiplied when these technologies are situated in post-Soviet regions, which have their own unique political and social uncertainties. The book’s approach is to encourage ‘critical learning’ by bringing together the disciplines of science and technology studies, and post-socialism studies. Chapters include case studies on egg donation, radiation science, and the development of new drugs.

Jennifer Wallis, Investigating the body in the Victorian asylum (New York, NY: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2017)
A study which links the histories of medicine, psychiatry, science and the body, this book uncovers the common practice of late nineteenth-century doctors to seek bodily evidence for the causes and symptoms of mental illnesses, using both clinical tests on patients and postmortem dissections. Jennifer Wallis uses the West Riding Asylum in Yorkshire as her main case study. Taking an ‘anatomical approach that aims to mirror contemporary processes of investigation’ (p. 14), the chapters cover various body parts in turn: skin, muscle, bone, brain and fluids.

Howard I. Kushner, On the other hand : left hand, right brain, mental illness, and history (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017)
An exploration of the ‘medical and cultural history of left-handedness’. Alongside his own experiences as a left-hander, Kushner considers the relationships, medically or socially constructed, between handedness, linguistics, taboo, disability and social tolerance. Chapters include: the reasons that have been posited for left-hand preference, the ways in which different cultures measure and judge handedness, and the psychological stereotyping of left-handers as criminals or creative geniuses.

Rohan Deb Roy, Malarial subjects : empire, medicine and nonhumans in British India, 1820-1909 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017)
In this study which links the history of medicine and science with empire and postcolonial studies, Rohan Deb Roy explores ‘the makings and persistence of malaria as an enduring diagnostic category’ (p.3) of disease and cure. In the long nineteenth century this category was not a straightforward medical diagnosis, but linked together various illnesses, plants, insects and other malarial objects which became, in the context of imperial rule, ‘objects of natural knowledge and social control’. Using British government and Bengali sources, chapters explore the growing of cinchona plants, the manufacture of quinine, and the making of the ‘Burdwan Fever’ epidemic.




New Books: January 2018

Recent arrivals at the Wellcome Unit Library: new books on surgery, syphilis, pregnancy, medical experimentation and global medicine! To consult any of our collections, contact us to arrange your visit to the library.

Keep up with all our new books via LibraryThing:



 Lindsey Fitzharris, The butchering art : Joseph Lister’s quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine (London : Allen Lane, 2017)
‘The gripping story of how Joseph Lister’s antiseptic method changed medicine forever’.
Medical schools, operating theatres, hospitals, mortuaries and graveyards provide the setting for Lindsey Fitzharris’s account of Lister’s pioneering discoveries. Fitzharris concentrates on a quarter-century of dramatic change in the practice of surgery, from 1850-1875. Lister’s work on germs and infection in this period brought together science and medicine in a world where recovery from medical operations was often a matter of luck.

Monika Pietrzak-Franger, Syphilis in victorian literature and culture : medicine, knowledge and the spectacle of Victorian invisibility (New York, NY : Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2017)
Described as ‘the first large-scale interdisciplinary study of syphilis in late Victorian Britain’, Monika Pietrzak-Franger’s book explores the disease in medical, social, political and cultural contexts, reflecting on how images and discussions of syphilis played a role in constructing individual and collective identities. The study highlights the dichotomy of visibility and invisibility surrounding syphilis: as an invisible virus which could produce highly visible symptoms, a disease which was highly debated in medical circles but difficult to diagnose and treat, and a source of private shame which was publicly referenced in various mediums of literature, art and music.

Mark Jackson (ed.), A global history of medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018)
This book features chapters by specialists on the history of medicine in China, the Islamic World, North and Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, and Australia and New Zealand, with starting and ending chapters framing the discussion. To begin, Mark Jackson discusses a challenge faced by historians of medicine: the need to take a global perspective whilst adequately considering the impact of specific local and temporal conditions. In the final chapter Sanjoy Bhattacharya takes smallpox as a case study for the way  these two dimensions should be integrated, arguing against ‘constrained global histories’ (p.257) which concentrate on powerful official health campaigns and assume worldwide trends but neglect the nuance of regional and local voices.

Jenifer Buckley, Gender, pregnancy and power in eighteenth-century literature: The Maternal Imagination (New York: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2017)
Looking at medical writings, plays, poetry, novels and popular pamphlets, Jenifer Buckley explores the trope of ‘maternal imagination’ in the eighteenth century: the belief that a pregnant woman could use their mind to influence the development of their unborn child. Beginning with the fascinating case of Mary Toft, a woman who claimed to have metamorphosed her unborn baby into a rabbit, Buckley traces the ways in which maternity was viewed as performance in this period. For authors, the idea of maternal imagination linked to debates about gender, power and the interaction between mind and body, and pregnant women became a stage on which these concerns could be addressed.

Deirdre Benia Cooper Owens, Medical bondage : race, gender, and the origins of American gynecology (Athens : The University of Georgia Press, [2017])
This new study looks at how the discoveries of nineteenth-century gynaecologists such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims and Nathan Bozeman were informed by medical experimentation on enslaved black women and Irish immigrant women. Deirdre Benia Cooper Owens tells the stories of these women using a variety of sources including medical journals, oral history interviews, newspapers and hospital records. Cooper Owens looks specifically at the destructive ‘medical fictions’ created to justify exploitation, such as the theory that enslaved black women were more resistant to pain than white women, and more broadly at the ways slavery, medicine and science were intertwined, and how American ideas about race, gender and bodies in this period influenced medical practice.













Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- Week 3, 29th January

This Monday’s seminar will be given by Professor Megan Vaughan (UCL), who will be speaking on ‘A research enclave in 1940s Nigeria : the Rockefeller Foundation Yellow Fever Research Institute at Yaba, Lagos, 1943-1949’.

‘This paper examines the history of yellow fever research in West Africa in the 1940s, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.  It describes an American-led, sometimes cutting edge programme of work in the field of virology, carried out in the conditions of wartime in a British colony. The scientific ambition and sophistication of this research enclave collided with the reality of a chronically under-funded colonial infrastructure and the neglect of public health.  The paper engages with a number of debates in the history of medical research in colonial Africa, including experimentation, the construction of the “field,” and the “laboratory”, and with questions of biosecurity.’

When? Monday 29th January, 16:00. Tea and coffee will be available in the Common Room from 15.30.

Where? History Faculty Lecture Theatre, George Street, Oxford

The HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe, Dr Sloan Mahone, Dr Erica Charters, Dr Roderick Bailey and Dr Atsuko Naono, of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine.
All welcome to attend! For more information on this term’s seminars see the Unit’s webpage:

Some background reading from the Wellcome Unit Library:

Megan Vaughan, Curing their ills : colonial power and African illness (Cambridge: Polity, 1991) – R651 VAU 1991

François Delaporte, The history of yellow fever : an essay on the birth of tropical medicine (Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press, 1991) – RC210 DEL 1991

Alfred Jay Bollet, Plagues & poxes : the impact of human history on epidemic disease (New York: Demos, 2002) – RA649 BOL 2004 (also available for Oxford University members as an ebook)

Hormoz Ebrahimnejad (ed.), The development of modern medicine in non-western countries: historical perspectives (London: Routledge, 2009) – R581 DEV 2009






Shelf Selection: Medicine and Literature

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts showing off the collections of the Wellcome Unit Library, Oxford!
Being interdisciplinary in nature, the history of medicine offers fascinating opportunities to view disease and medical treatment through time in various social and cultural contexts. This means that although we are a small and specialised library, our books come under a wide range of subject classifications, from BL (religion) to U (military science), via JC (political theory).
In this week’s shelf selection we have a variety of books which link medicine with literary works:

Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England– Mary Ann Lund (PR2224 LUN 2010)

Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) is an essential text for understanding early modern attitudes to illness and cure. Melancholy was understood as an ailment of body and soul, and Burton suggested that the experience of reading about the condition in his book could have curative powers. Mary Ann Lund argues that Burton’s approach has a lot to tell us about the history of reading and the relationships between reader, author and text. Looking at the diverse influences behind Burton’s conviction, including early modern medical writings, she presents Anatomy as a literary, medical and religious text which defies easy categorisation.

Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory and Film
Jennifer Cooke
(PN56.P5 COO 2009)

This study begins with an overview of plague-writing classics by Daniel Defoe and Albert Camus, and goes on to trace the survival of plague as a metaphor and cultural phenomenon beyond the last major European epidemics and into the twentieth century. Cooke finds echoes of the disease across theatre, politics and media, including anti-Semitic rhetoric, Freudian psychoanalysis and George A. Romero’s zombie films. For a collection of earlier historical and literary accounts of plague, see also Rebecca Totaro (ed.) The Plague in Print: Essential Elizabethan Sources 1558-1603 (PR1125.P53 PLA 2010)

Disease and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture– eds. Allan Ingram and Leigh Wetherall Dickson (PR448.D57 DIS 2016)

Originating in a collaborative research project by members of the Universities of Northumbria and Newcastle, this edited volume reads literary works by writers such as Maria Edgeworth and Jonathan Swift alongside medical books, letters and diaries, to consider how people ‘fashioned’, or ascribed meaning to, diseases and causes of death in this period. A distinction can be observed in 18th century society between ‘fashionable’ and ‘unfashionable’ diseases (consumption and ‘ennui’ were generally listed in the former category, plague and smallpox in the latter), and literary works played a role in creating, reinforcing and subverting these categories.

Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in
Victorian Culture
– Martha Stoddard Holmes

(PR468.P35.S76 STO 2004)

Part of the ‘Corporealities: Discourses of Disability’ series, this book links the prevalence of characters with disabilities in Victorian fiction to a wider cultural trend of melodramatic representation of disability, also seen among doctors and educators, and asks what this can tell us about 19th century society and culture. Holmes’s study looks at writers including Charles Dickens (who used the character of Tiny Tim as a sentimentalized shortcut for his message of charity and social justice), Wilkie Collins, Dinah Craik and Charlotte Younge, alongside other sources from the same period including autobiographical accounts from people with disabilities.

Hardy the Physician: Medical Aspects of the Wessex Tradition– Tony Fincham (PR4754 FIN 2008)

Using evidence of Thomas Hardy’s own experience and understanding of physical and mental illness, Tony Fincham reviews the place of illness and medicine in Hardy’s fiction, making particular reference to the GP protagonist of The Woodlanders, Dr Edred Fitzpiers. Fincham highlights Hardy’s ‘consistent and continuous forefronting of psychological factors in the aetiology of illness’ (p.117), concluding that Hardy favoured a holistic, emotionally aware approach to medical matters.

If you would like to consult any of the books held in the Wellcome Unit Library, contact us to arrange your visit!

Seminar 3: Fears, phobias and obsessions in the late-nineteenth century

Fears, phobias and obsessions in the late-nineteenth century

The third HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 30th January (Week 3) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Sally Shuttleworth.

Sally Shuttleworthn moved to Oxford in 2006 to take up the post of the Head of the Humanities Division, with responsibility for the 11 faculties and units which make up the Division of Humanities within the University. She stepped down from this role in 2011 to return to research and is currently running two large research projects to extend her work on the interface of literature, science and culture: ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’ and ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’. She also teaches Victorian literature and culture.

Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal’s now-classic paper on ‘Agoraphobia’ of 1871 laid the foundations for the rapid development of work on phobias, fears and obsessions which sprang up in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This preoccupation with excessive states of fear, out of all proportion to any evident causes, climaxed in G. Stanley Hall’s ‘Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear’ in the American Journal of Psychology (1914), which registered no less than 138 different types of pathological fear, all with their own Greek or Latinate names, from more generalised categories such as agoraphobia, to the very specific pteronophobia (fear of feathers). In this talk, Shuttleworth will explore the intersection of medical and literary discourses of fear as they emerged in the latter half of the century, looking particularly at the ways in which psychiatry turned to literature for case studies of phobia and obsession.

G. Stanley Hall’s ‘Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear’, mentioned above, is available though SOLO in the American Journal of Psychology, Volume 25, No.3 (July 1914). The article can be accessed via this link if you’re already logged in to SOLO.








Several of Shuttleworth’s published works are also available online through SOLO. The mind of the child: child development in literature, science, and medicine 1840-1900 explores issues such as childhood fears, imaginary lands, sexuality, and the relation of the child to animal life, moving between literature and science. Chapter 2 of part 1 is entitled ‘Fears, Phantasms, and Night Terrors’, which is of particular relevance to the seminar. Shuttleworth is also a co-author of Crossing boundaries: thinking through literature, along with Julie Scanlon, Amy Waste, and Terry Eagleton. Shuttleworth’s chapter is ”So Childish and So Dreadfully Un-Childlike’: Cultural Constructions of Idiocy in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, but its following chapter may also be relevant to the topic of fears: ”Aberrant Passions and Unaccountable Antipathies’: Nervous Women, Nineteenth-Century Neurology and Literary Text’, by Jane Wood.







The book from which Shuttleworth’s research project takes its name, Diseases of modern life by Benjamin Ward Richardson (QZ 40/Rich), is an interesting primary source text that we hold in the Unit Library, with some illuminating discussion of ‘Disease from Worry and Mental Strain’ (Part the Second, Chapter II). It covers such afflictions from mental strain as Hysteria and Broken Heart. This work approaches the effects of worry on health with the focus of the interview; a completely different angle on the topic of fear can be found in Philip Alcabes’s book Dread : how fear and fantasy have fueled epidemics from the Black Death to avian flu by (RA649 ALC 2009). This work looks at how anxieties about outbreaks of disease often stray from the facts to incorporate inflated fears about what is unknown, undesirable or misunderstood.








Allan Horwitz’s Anxiety : a short history (RC531 HOR 2013 and online) is a more general work on the topic, covering melancholia, nerves, neuroses and phobias, but has a pertinent chapter entitled ‘The Nineteenth Century’s New Uncertainties’. This explores how the newly industrialized world created a wide range of uncertainties, including a discussion of phobias. Finally, The age of anxiety : a history of America’s turbulent affair with tranquilizers by Andrea Tone (RM333 TON 2009) looks at medication and anxieties, and takes a brief look at the roots of modern anxiety in Victorian neurasthenia (‘tired nerves’) in its first chapter.








You can read more about Shuttleworth’s research into The Stresses and Strains of Modern Life here:

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: ‘A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide’
L0026691 Credit: Wellcome Library, London
A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide. Lithograph, 1892, after a drawing made for Sir Alexander Morison.
1892 after: Alexander Morison and Byrom Bramwell
Published: [s.n.],[Edinburgh] : [1892]; Printed: McLagan & Cumming Lith.)(Edin[bu]r[gh] :
Size: image 20.5 x 20 cm. ; Collection: Iconographic Collections
Library reference no.: ICV No 51428 and Iconographic Collection 38637i
Full Bibliographic Record: Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue

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

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)

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

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!

Seminar 5: ‘Traditional medicine and primary health care in Sri Lanka: policy, perceptions, and practice’

‘Traditional medicine and primary health care in Sri Lanka: policy,
perceptions, and practice’

The fifth HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 7th November (Week 5) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Margaret Jones.

Margaret Jones is a historian of medicine and colonialism in Sri Lanka and Jamaica. She joined the History Department at York after six years here at the Wellcome Unit as a Research Officer and then as a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow. She has worked extensively on the development of public health policies and the medical services of colonial Sri Lanka and Jamaica. She is currently working on the development of primary health care services and the impact of international initiatives in Sri Lanka, 1950-2000.

Primary Health Care was launched onto the international stage by the World Health Organization’s Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 and with it came the acknowledgment that traditional medical systems could play a vital part in its delivery. The traditional medical systems of Sri Lanka (termed collectively as Ayurveda) have been part of the official medical landscape from the 1930s and at least at the level of stated government policy have been seen as participating in the government health care system: their values and holistic approach to health being particularly appropriate for the delivery of preventive medicine. Faced with a double disease burden of communicable and non-communicable disease in the twenty first century this vital role was again emphasised in the Government’s Health Master Plan of 2007-16, ‘Healthy and Shining Island in the 21st Century’. The traditional medical systems were, it stated, to ‘collectively constitute an integral part of the health sector’ and its practitioners to participate fully in delivering its services. Through the means of a purposive qualitative survey of a sample of traditional medical practitioners in and around the Colombo area this paper seeks to explore the reality as opposed to the rhetoric of government policy.

Jones has written several books on the history of medicine in Sri Lanka herself, two of which we hold at the Wellcome Unit Library. The first, Health policy in Britain’s model colony : Ceylon, 1900-1948 (RA530.2 JON 2004) discusses within the context of British Ceylon (now the nation of Sri Lanka) whether Western medicine was a positive benefit of colonialism, or one of its agents of oppression. The research for this title is underscored by a detailed analysis of public health measures in Ceylon. Her second monograph, The hospital system and health care : Sri Lanka, 1815-1960 (RA990.S72 JON 2009) specifically examines the role and development of hospitals in Sri Lanka to ascertain the nature of the contribution of Western medicine to the health of indigenous populations. Across both titles, Jones explores government, mission and philanthropic initiatives in the provision of medical services, and sets her critique against a background of human needs and rights.










Jones has argued that the roots of Sri Lanka’s healthcare policies and infrastructure, and its record of achieving good quality of life indicators, lie in part in its colonial period. To gain a better understanding of this backdrop, a number of titles provide a useful insight into the medical and health issues surrounding colonialism. For example, Western medicine as contested knowledge by Andrew Cunningham and Bridie Andrews (RA441.5 WES 1997) examines the range and extrent of non-Western responses to western medicine across the spectrum of Western imperalist influence, and includes a chapter on the influence of the World Health Organization: ‘Who and the developing world: the contest for ideology’. Soma Hewa’s work, Colonialism, tropical disease and imperial medicine : Rockefeller philanthropy in Sri Lanka (RA530.2 HEW 1995), looks more closely at the impact of European colonial policies on the health and disease of the population of Sri Lanka.










Moving closer to the present day, Decolonisation, development and disease : a social history of malaria in Sri Lanka by Kalinga Tudor Silva (RA644.M2 SIL 2014) examines the politics of the devastating malaria epidemic of 1934–35 that shaped Sri Lanka’s transition from a colony to a postcolonial state, and also looks at the shift away from indigenous knowledge.









One online article of particular relevance to this topic is ‘Public Policy and Basic Needs Provision: Intervention and Achievement in Sri Lanka’ in The political economy of hunger (Vol. 3: Endemic hunger), which is available through SOLO. Ravi Kanbur studies the country’s intrinsic and directed public policies, exploring the role of the expansion of health services in mortality decline as compared with the effect of food subsidies.

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:  International Nurses Day: President Mahinda Rajapaksa presides over a ceremony to mark International Nurses Day held at the BMICH on May 12 2014. From, Flikr user Mahinda Rajapaksa. Image use permitted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC 2.0:

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: