Showing 31 - 40 of 149 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

Mendel's Dwarf

Mawer, Simon

Last Updated: Jun-15-2010
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.

The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).

By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.

In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

The Crimean War (1853-1856) holds a place in the history of medicine, specifically, the history of nursing. For as the British public read the 1850s Times reports about the total lack of care suffered by their wounded in this conflict, a British nurse, Florence Nightingale, volunteered to recruit a team of nurses to aid the suffering men. The Times created a relief fund for the sick and wounded, and Queen Victoria, an enthusiastic supporter of this war against Russia, sponsored an even larger fund. Female nurses had a reputation for drunkenness and promiscuity. Nightingale made it a point to recruit nuns and women from the lower classes who would be more manageable than educated, upper class women. Three black nurses applied, including Mary Seacole, but they were rejected.

The Turks, British allies, allowed Florence Nightingale the use of their army barracks at Scutari, across from Constantinople: "'I have been well acquainted with the dwellings of the worst parts of most of the great cities of Europe,' Nightingale wrote,' but have never been in any atmosphere which I could compare with that of the Barrack Hospital at night'" (111). Open sewers ran beneath these vermin-infested structures  which were crammed with sick soldiers lying on the filthy floor. There were no supplies and few doctors. Typhus, typhoid, cholera or dysentery killed many patients. Nightingale's meticulous statistics showed alarming escalation of mortality rates; she believed in cleanliness and fresh air but not in the germ theory of disease. When comparing her numbers with those of other military hospitals, Nightingale understood that soap alone would not save the men.

Rappaport describes the nursing offered by army wives, widows and other volunteers, including French nuns. The women's living conditions, especially during pregnancy and childbirth, often resulted in sickness and death. Others volunteered as cooks, including Elizabeth Davis who alleged that while "...she and the other nurses dined on the stewed-up, tough old meat used to make soup for the patients, Nightingale ‘had a French cook, and three courses of the best of every kind of food ... served up everyday at her table'" (168-169).

Nightingale became famous as the heroine of the Crimean War. She is known now as the founder of professional nursing. Recent research has questioned whether Nightingale was the real angel of the Crimea. Rappaport investigates the work of the Jamaican nurse, healer, and entrepreneur Mary Seacole, one of the 3 black nurses rejected for service in the Crimean War. She financed her journey to and stay in the Crimea herself. She built a British Hospital in the Crimea, and treated the wounded at Balaklava there and in the field. The soldiers called her Mother Seacole because she cared for their material and spiritual needs. She sold gin and raki and home-cooked meals, and went bankrupt because too generous with credit. Seacole recouped her losses and achieved bestseller status with her memoir, Mrs. Seacole's Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands (1857), the first memoir by a black woman from Britain.

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Suburban Shaman

Helman, Cecil

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Because this lucid, rich, and incisive book has not, as yet, been published in the United States, it has not acquired the readership it deserves. For those teaching Medical Humanities or those interested in broader or more global stories and perspectives about physician training, practice, and experiences, Helman’s most recent publication should be considered.

Part One (“Setting Out”) begins in South Africa where Helman’s family, comprised of a dozen doctors, has lived for generations and where his own medical studies occurred. As a child, he accompanied his father on rounds while other children spent holidays at the beach. Before long he discovered how hospitals, during the madness of Apartheid, were to “some extent a distorted mirror-image of the world outside” (3). Appalled by the differences in care and treatment, the keenly aware young man kept notes. His vivid observations of the harsh context of social injustices provide an unequivocal, eloquent, and disturbing critique of medicine then and there. His acute observations of physician behaviors and indigent populations in the city and in the bush contribute, as readers discover in later chapters, to the author’s expanded and compelling interests in cultural anthropology.

Part Two (“The Family Doctor”) leads to London. “After all the heat and light and space of Africa, London—with its low leaden sky and constant drizzle—was like living inside a Tupperware box, one stored deep inside a refrigerator” (47). In the 60s Helman’s migration required an adjustment to a world of technology and order, where as a family practitioner, he had become, in fact, a suburban shaman. In any society, patients wanted “relief from discomfort, relief from anxiety, a relationship of compassion and care, some explanation of what has gone wrong, and why, and a sense of order or meaning imposed on the apparent chaos of their personal suffering to help them make sense of it and to cope with it” (xvi).

Gradually Helman saw connections between the role of family physician and traditional healer: both involved an understanding of “not only a body’s internal equilibrium but also the equilibrium of the patient’s relationships with the world he or she lives in and how treatment should aim not only to treat the diseased organ but also to restore the patient’s life that equilibrium of relationships” (xvii). His encounters with patients and the stories they reveal suggest how important these often overlooked connections are and why they ought to be included in medical training and practice.

By the time readers reach Part Three ("States of the Art”), the author has moved into broader realms of thinking, in which medicine and illnesses are examined anthropologically. After 27 years of clinical practice Helman’s white coat and stethoscope are placed on a hook. Now, as a credentialed anthropologist at University College London, his larger lens allows for sustained scrutiny of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances in such chapters as “Grand Rounds,” “Hospitals,” “Placebos,” “Third Worlds.” Helman’s range of experiences, multi-disciplinary training, intellectual conclusions, and abundant common sense argues for techno-doctors to learn from holistic practitioners. Whether devastating or humorous, the critiques reflect not just care provision but shared human capacities: the insights are thoughtful and fresh and very worthwhile.

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Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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A Book of Reasons

Vernon, John

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In his dedication to the book, the author addresses his sons: "The secret to life? Clean your room." The meaning of this becomes clear as Vernon traces the story of his brother, Paul, with whose death the book begins. Paul was 15 years older than the author and had been only a shadowy presence in his life. When Paul died, John Vernon had to exercise his duties as executor of Paul's "estate," an estate that turned out to be a festering, stinking nightmare of a house.

The house was filled with 20 years worth of trash that represented 20 years of Paul's life as a recluse. This memoir is an attempt to imagine Paul's life and to understand the reasons for the course it took. It is also an attempt to "bear painful news" and to reflect on his own reactions to what he discovers and to Paul's death.

In order to do this, Vernon calls on history, interweaving his memories and what was revealed of Paul's life after his death with discussions of the beliefs and discoveries of past eras. Finding himself nailing a thermometer to the outside of Paul's house, the author describes the development of thermometers, and the nature of heat ("Heat"). What, he asks, is meant by "normal" atmospheric pressure? How abnormal was his brother? After all, he bought nursing-home insurance a year before he died. And how normal is he, John Vernon, affixing a thermometer to this wreckage?

As he builds a primitive set of steps to the house, the author explores the history of tool making and speculates about what distinguishes humans from animals; did Cain murder Abel with a hammer, and is he, John Vernon, his brother's keeper? ("Tools") Similar expositions and speculations interdigitate in subsequent sections entitled "Body," "Corpse," "House," "Origins." [At the end of the book, there is a bibliography of references for each section.]

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Summary:

Written by a psychiatrist and historian, American Melancholy: Constructions of Depression in the Twentieth Century looks at how culture, politics and, in particular, gender have played a role in the development of a diagnosis.  Hirshbein moves between several different worlds, showing how they intercalate and, indeed, are very much part of the same world: psychiatric nosology and cultural attitudes to the gendered expression of emotion and feelings, medication trials and magazine advice to women about how they should deal with the blues, the relations between treatment paradigms and how society views suffering.

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In four parts this book uses a wide variety of images--caricatures in newspapers, comic books, advertisements, and photojournalism of Life magazine--to explore attitudes to physicians and medical progress in the mass media from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Each section centers on a specific type of image and the analysis addresses change in perception of doctors and their achievements by privileging crucial moments of newsworthy events and discoveries.

Early in this history, the media portrayed doctors as frock-coat wearing fops.  Medical metaphors used in a political context proclaimed these attitudes well. The story of four little boys, bitten by a dog in 1885 and sent to Pasteur in Paris for the newly invented rabies vaccination, is used as a pivot point for a transition in perceptions of medicine: from a clumsy, suspicious craft to a useful, progressive science.

The third section is devoted to the public fascination with the history of medicine in the period from 1920 to 1950, Films, newspaper articles, and comic books chart the insatiable taste for scientific success and medical progress. The last section studies images of progress in Life and other magazines through a meticulous analysis of health-related articles. In this section, Hansen shows how the media participated in educating the public to a definition of science that enjoyed an enthusiastically optimistic spin.

An appendix lists American radio dramas about medical history from 1935 to 1953. A wealth of sources are documented in the notes and the whole is completed with an intelligent index.

 

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Late in the twentieth century, the young doctor Goodheart fails in a city practice and accepts a salaried position in the country.  Even there his difficulties persist. A challenging patient—the Reverend Pastor--refuses a tiny muscle biopsy that would not only confirm the diagnosis of trichinosis, but establish the doctor’s reputation. “I would rather die than let myself be skewered alive!” the pastor shouts (p. 11).

Deeply discouraged Goodheart wanders into the country at twilight, sighing, “If only there were a means of making the human body as transparent as jelly fish” (p. 13). Suddenly a woman appears in a blaze of light. She is “Electra the spirit of the twentieth century” (p. 15). She gives the astonished doctor a box and bids him open the lid. The nearby tree immediately becomes “as transparent as a jelly fish” (p.17). Next the box, judiciously aimed, illuminates the inner workings of a frog.

Goodheart applies his box to the ailing pastor and sees parasites teaming throughout his body. Then he effects a dramatic cure with helminthotoxin made from the worms themselves—a treatment that had been invented sometime during the century.

The box proves to be a simple electrical device, easily replicated. Declining financial recognition, to the vexation of his wife, Goodheart communicates the workings of the box to the world with no mention of Electra. But fame and riches flow his way and he dies in old age an honored man.

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Summary:

This study sets forth the mystery of scurvy  which devastated the British Navy during the eighteenth century. Among several diseases common on board, including yellow fever, typhus, or typhoid fever, syphilis, tuberculosis, and dysentery, scurvy was the most devastating. Caused by a lack of vitamin C, scurvy’s symptoms appear as swollen and bleeding gums, livid spots on the skin, and prostration. Untreated, the illness results in agonizing death. When Commodore George Anson’s flagship, Centurion, sailed from Plymouth in 1741, rounded Cap Horn and returned to Britain, his ship carried home only two hundred of the two thousand men he set out with. A deadly combination of voyages lasting a year or more, unhealthy conditions on board, including malnutrition, filth, crowding, ignorance about basic facts of biology, as well as inexperienced sailors pressed into crewing on ships managed by violent officers using harsh physical punishment resulted in millions of deaths at sea from the age of Columbus to the nineteenth century, when scurvy remedies were finally found.

Bown credits three men with discovering a solution to the mystery of scurvy: a surgeon, James Lind (1716-1794), sea captain James Cook (1728-1779), and a  physician, Gilbert Blane (1749-1843). Lemon juice had been known to prevent and cure scurvy since the 17th century, but 18th century medical men disregarded empirical knowledge in favor of the theory of humours.

James Lind entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon’s mate in 1739 under appalling conditions similar to those described by Tobias Smollett in Roderick Random (1748). He initiated a two-week controlled experiment where he separated the afflicted sailors into 6 groups who each received a different diet: cider, vitriol, vinegar, sea water, oranges and lemons, and nutmeg paste. The group receiving the oranges and lemons obtained the best results. Lind published his treatise on scurvy in 1753. However, he was unable to explain the causes of scurvy and why oranges and lemons led to its cure.

James Cook circumnavigated the world 3 times. On his lengthy voyages, he stopped for fresh fruits and antiscorbutics wherever he could, as he noticed these kept the seamen free of scurvy. Cook showed that scurvy was curable, but not why.

During the War of American Independence, Gilbert Blane served as a physician on board several warships in the British Navy. He instituted a diet of fresh fruits and better hygiene on board ship. He published Observations on the Diseases Incident to Seamen, in which he advocated using oranges and lemons to cure scurvy. He advised that lemon juice be mixed into the sailors’ grog.

The British Navy encountered an historic ordeal in 1805 with the Battle of Trafalgar. Admiral Nelson, commander of the British Navy, had nearly died from scurvy in 1780. Now he faced Napoleon Bonaparte and the French fleet. Bown argues that the near- elimination of scurvy on board their ships contributed mightily to the British victory.

A timeline, from 1492 to 1933, concludes the volume. Recommended readings, a bibliography and an index are provided.

 

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