Showing 61 - 70 of 145 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that thinking is not universally the same, in time or around the globe. Specifically, Asians and Westerners vary in what they perceive, how they process it, and what action they might take. Nisbett has studied seminal figures such as Aristotle and Confucius, the geographical and social origins of Greece and China, and clues from the languages involved.

He explains a series of polarities, which can be quickly sketched (Eastern first/then Western): relationships/action, choice; feelings/logic; interdependence/independence; circularity, cycles/linearity; field dependence/divisible categories; harmony/debate; ground/figure; context/focal object; setting/outcome; and multiple causes/single cause and effect. Nisbett has also conducted experiments with students of Eastern and Western backgrounds to demonstrate that such differences are still real.

Finally, he argues that, with globalization, the two traditions will merge.

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A severe synopsis of Foucault's first major work might show how Foucault charts the journey of the mad from liberty and discourse to confinement and silence and how this is signposted by the exercise of power. He starts in the epoch when madness was an "undifferentiated experience" (ix), a time when the mad roamed the countryside in "an easy wandering existence" (8); Foucault shows the historical and cultural developments that lead to "that other form of madness, by which men, in an act of sovereign reason, confine their neighbors" (ix), challenging the optimism of William Tuke and Phillipe Pinel's "liberation" of the mad and problematizing the genesis of psychiatry, a "monologue of reason about madness" (xi).

Central to this is the notion of confinement as a meaningful exercise. Foucault's history explains how the mad came first to be confined; how they became identified as confined due to moral and economic factors that determined those who ought to be confined; how they became perceived as dangerous through their confinement, partly by way of atavistic identification with the lepers whose place they had come to occupy; how they were "liberated" by Pinel and Tuke, but in their liberation remained confined, both physically in asylums and in the designation of being mad; and how this confinement subsequently became enacted in the figure of the psychiatrist, whose practice is "a certain moral tactic contemporary with the end of the eighteenth century, preserved in the rites of the asylum life, and overlaid by the myths of positivism." Science and medicine, notably, come in at the later stages, as practices "elaborated once this division" between the mad and the sane has been made (ix).

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Gulliver's Travels

Swift, Jonathan

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Gulliver's Travels consists of four voyages, each of which involves Gulliver ending up on a distant shore where he encounters its strange and wonderful inhabitants. The first voyage finds Gulliver stranded on Lilliput after a shipwreck. Here, he is neatly captured by the famous Lilliputians, "human Creature[s] not six inches high" (5). Gulliver is a source of fear and awe to them, and participates somewhat helpfully in the Lilliputian war against Blefuscu, a lengthy conflict that has arisen between the big-enders and little-enders (depending upon which side of a boiled egg one must crack in order to eat it). Court intrigue and resentments, including the accusation of adultery with a Lilliputian, soon require of him that he escape an assassination attempt.

He returns to England, only to set off again on another voyage. A storm, a longboat journey to fetch water, and abandonment by a terrified crew, leaves him in Brobdingnag where he is captured by giants "as Tall as an ordinary Spire-steeple." (65). Gulliver becomes something of a pet, amusing and entertaining the Brobdingnagians with his exploits and size, competing with the royal dwarf and endearing himself to these massive people. While in transit to the Frontiers, a giant eagle captures him in his travel-box (imagine a carrier with holes punctured in the top to transport a small pet) and drops him into the ocean, where he is rescued by more familiarly-sized humans.

The third voyage finds Gulliver captaining a ship until conquered by pirates, who set him off on a longboat, where he makes his way to Laputa, Balnibari, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg and Japan. He encounters the flying island of Laputa, the never-dying Struldbrugs (who nevertheless age and become decrepit), and the Academy of Lagado, with its - to use modern vernacular - "fringe scientists". After returning to England by way of Japan, and somehow still restless, he commences a fourth voyage, again as a captain but this time a mutinous crew abandons him in the Land of the Houyhnhnms, populated by the rational race of horses and the putrid yahoos.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This erudite collection of twelve essays by a physician-scientist weaves allegory, myth, clinical experience, science, and western history and religion (particularly Catholicism) with ruminations on the meaning of medicine and health. The author is the chair of the Department of Medicine at Jagiellonian University School of Medicine in Cracow, Poland – a university founded in 1364 and which counts Copernicus and Pope John Paul II as alumni. Hence it is with this sense of history that the author addresses such topics as cardiology, pain and its relief, genomics, critical care, infectious disease, health care financing. For instance, in Chapter VII “A Purifying Power” Szczeklik traces the word “katharsis” (the title of the book in the original Polish) to the Greek chorus, Pythagoras and Aristotle, then explores the interplay between music and medicine.

Some of the memorable clinical tales are of the reanimation of a frozen man and the resuscitation of a man who drags himself to the newly opened critical care unit and then very cooperatively codes. The narratives about research, such as the self-experimentation with prostacyclin just after its discovery in the 1970s, are also riveting.

The scope includes the realms of science and religion. For instance, Szczeklik mentions both the Papal Academy of Sciences session on evolution (Pope John Paul II: “The scientific theory of evolution is not at odds with any truth of the Christian faith.” p. 128) as well as religious overtones to metaphoric declarations about the power of the genome (“the language of God” p. 125).

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This film tells the remarkable story of Vivien Thomas (played by Mos Def), an African-American fine carpenter, who found his way into medicine through the back door and changed medical history. Hired when jobs were in short supply to work as a custodian and sometime lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), a research cardiologist, Thomas quickly becomes an irreplaceable research assistant. His keen observations, his skill with the most delicate machinery and, eventually, in performing experimental surgery on animals, make clear that he has both a genius and a calling.

Though the relationship has its tensions (Blalock, as a Southern white man and a doctor, has some blind spots in the matter of mutual human respect, though he highly values Thomas’s skills) it lasts for decades. The two move their families to Baltimore, where Blalock becomes Head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins and, much to his colleagues surprise and to some of their dismay, brings Thomas in to perform groundbreaking open heart surgery on a blue baby. It is not until after Blalock’s death that Thomas is granted an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he continues to work in research until his own retirement.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

After a brief prologue, the book opens with a summary history of the development of medicine in the United State at the turn of the 20th century. The author introduces the reader to the characters—the physicians, the researchers, the officials of both military and civilian life, who will direct and mold the tale of the influenza pandemic of 1918. The story is developed generally along chronological lines with flashbacks where appropriate into the chains of command and the development of the great research institutes of America prior to World War I. The limitations of science going into the epidemic are explored; the struggles the researchers undertook to solve the mysteries of etiologic agent and mode of transmission, and the search for prevention and treatment dominate the exploration of this modern day pandemic. The Afterword opens the questions of when and where the next pandemic will surface and the possibility of learning from the horrors of The Great Influenza of c 19l8.

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An Acquaintance with Darkness

Rinaldi, Ann

Last Updated: Oct-16-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

The novel is set in Washington, DC in April, 1865. At fourteen, Emily is sole caretaker of her mother who is dying of tuberculosis. Her neighbor, Annie Surratt, is her best friend, though their mothers have been estranged for some time. Both families have deep roots in the South. Annie’s brother, Johnny, an object of Emily’s romantic fantasies, has recently left on a secret mission. The war is nearly over. Emily’s uncle Valentine, a physician, wants to take custody of her after her mother dies, but because her mother has also felt estranged from him, Emily resists. Still, after her mother’s death, she does go to live with her uncle, and learns that he (with his two assistants, one of whom is a woman who is 1/8 African American) has a lively practice among the poor and the African Americans who have flooded the streets of Washington since the emancipation.

Valentine is called to Lincoln’s bedside the night of his assassination, and participates in efforts to track down John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices, one of whom appears to have been Johnny Surratt, who has escaped to Canada. In the course of her time there Emily discovers that her uncle and his assistant are involved in elaborate, marginally legal, schemes to obtain bodies for study at the medical college. Emily, at first horrified by this discovery, comes to recognize the good that comes of anatomical studies and to sympathize with her uncle’s efforts to bring about legislation making the acquisition of bodies for medical research easier. Annie’s mother is hanged as an accomplice in the Booth conspiracy, Annie leaves town, and Emily comes to understand a great deal more about the harsh terms on which life must be lived in times of national crisis and ideological warfare. The story ends with her growing interest in medicine as a possible career path.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The young pathologist David Coleman (Ben Gazzara) arrives to join a hospital pathology lab. He encounters disorganization and a hostile, cigar-smoking chief, Joe Pearson (Frederic March), who declares his intention to keep working until he dies. Coleman tries to implement a few changes, but his suggestions are overruled.

The film revolves around two cases: possible erythroblastosis in the child of an intern and his wife whose first child died; possible bone cancer in Coleman's girlfriend, student nurse Kathy Hunt (Ina Balin). The infant's problem is misdiagnosed due to Pearson's refusal to order the new Coombs' test recommended by Coleman; the baby nearly dies, alienating the obstetrician (Eddie Albert), a long time friend who now presses for Pearson's dismissal.

Coleman disagrees with Pearson, who thinks that Kathy's bone tumor is malignant, but he opts for professional discretion, defers to the chief, and urges her to have her leg amputated anyway. He discovers that Pearson had been right: the surgery, which he thought unnecessary, has provided her with her only chance of survival. Just as Coleman realizes the enormity of his error, he learns that Pearson has resigned and that he will take over the lab.

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Summary:

This lively volume of medical history chronicles the forms of suffering, illness, injury, and treatment endured by the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805. Beginning with three chapters of political and medical history to set the context, the story follows the adventures of the extraordinarily fortunate "Corps of Discovery" among whom Lewis was the most trained in the medicine of the time (having studied in preparation for the trip under Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia), and he only an amateur. Even professional medicine of the time was approximate and largely ineffectual, limited mostly to purgatives, opiates and laudanum for pain relief, bleeding, and topical applications of various compounds or herbal substances.

The story chronicles the main events of the trip based on the extensive journals of Lewis and Clark as well as other historical account, maintaining focus in each chapter on the medical incidents including gastrointestinal distress from parasites and contaminated water; effects of overexposure like hypothermia and exhaustion; infections from wounds and scratches; syphilis; dislocations; muscular spasms; mosquitoes and other insect bites; snakebites and other animal attacks.

Along the way Peck pauses to explain the rather rudimentary medical theories upon which treatments were based, the effects of particular known treatments, and what Lewis and others likely knew, guessed at, or didn’t understand about lead, mercury, opium, and certain herbal substances they used. He speculates about the contexts of their medical decisions and offers occasional contemporary analogies to help readers imagine the circumstances and tradeoffs the explorers faced.

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