Showing 61 - 70 of 149 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Winter surveys the rise and fall of mesmerism in Victorian Britain, from animal magnetism to hypnotism, including electrobiology (a form of group hysteria), table-turning, and other fads. The book offers rich detail about the different stages of the use of mesmerism in medicine: its initial appearance in staged experiments; its uncertain status and the struggle to locate the boundary demarcating alternative medicines; its performance by professional medical men as well as travelers and quacks; its importance in the development of anesthesia; and its role in prompting skeptical scientists to consider the possibility of mental reflexes as one way to explain away mesmeric phenomena.

Winter argues that mesmerism was not "illegitimate" so much as it brought "legitimacy" itself - of medical authority, of evidence, of knowledge -- into question. Thus, she argues, mesmerism crucially inspired many of the considerable changes in nineteenth-century medicine as well as the reorganization of science and the educational reforms of the later nineteenth century. The book also discusses mesmerism as a form of religion, as a conduit for spiritualism and communication with the dead, as a catalyst in orchestral conducting, and as a model for liberal political consensus.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film rendition of Randy Shilts's documentary book by the same name tells the scientific, political, and human story of the first five years of AIDS in the U.S.--roughly 1980-85. Mainly it is a story of dedicated medical researchers groping to understand the horrifying and mysterious new disease and simultaneously battling the public fear and indifference that prevented, during those Reagan years, both public funding of their research and acceptance of their findings.

The central figure is Dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine), veteran of the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program, and the horrifying outbreak of hemorrhagic fever along the Ebola River in central Africa in 1976. Working at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta with no money and no space, Francis pursues his theory that AIDS is caused by a sexually-transmitted virus on the model of feline leukemia. His individual antagonist is Dr. Robert Gallo (Alan Alda), the discoverer of HTLV (the human T-cell leukemia virus), who cuts off assistance when he hears that Francis has shared some experimental materials with French researchers. (Gallo sees the French team mainly as his rivals for a Nobel prize.) Gallo finally claims a French retrovirus discovery as his own and thereby acquires a coveted patent.

Besides lab work and big scientific egos, the film shows us lots of grass-roots, shoe-leather epidemiology, especially in San Francisco; the laborious questioning of AIDS patients about their sexual histories, in search of the chain of infection and its beginning, "patient zero." The film's plot ends with Reagan's 1984 re-election and Francis's departure for San Francisco to set up as an independent researcher. Preceding the credits are a number of updates that take AIDS and the story's heroes and villains from 1985 to 1993, all this appearing over stills of famous AIDS victims and crusaders.

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Mr. Darwin's Shooter

MacDonald, Roger

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel recounts the fictional life of Syms Covington, an historical character who was Charles Darwin's servant during the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836) and for two years thereafter in England. Covington then moved to New South Wales, but remained in correspondence with Darwin for the rest of his life. (He died in February 1861.)

MacDonald expands on these facts to create the engrossing story of an "elderly" Covington--he would have been in his mid-40's at the time--who befriends a young American physician in New South Wales. Covington develops appendicitis and MacCracken, the young doctor, saves his life. They become friends and during the next two years Covington gradually reveals his story.

The book flashes back to the voyage of the Beagle and reveals the development of Covington's prickly but worshipful relationship with Darwin. In 1860 Covington, who has become a wealthy landowner in New South Wales, anxiously awaits his copy of The Origin of Species. After enduring the agony and adventure, after studying thousands and thousands of specimens, how will Darwin bring it all together? The theory of evolution rocks Covington to the core. Has his work played a part in helping Darwin to develop this godless theory?

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

The journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, features artwork on its cover. Under the guidance of managing editor, Polyxeni Potter, these images are selected to enhance the journal's communication of its scientific public health content. Among the goals that govern the choice of its cover art are the editors' intention to illustrate ideas, stimulate the intellect, and fire the emotions (personal communication).

Acompanying each image is a one-page commentary on the artist, the topic depicted, and its relevance to infectious disease. Cover art (and commentary) from past issues can be accessed from the title page of each current issue.

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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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Summary:

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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Summary:

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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