What’s Afoot?

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

I have served as Managing Editor for Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry since June of 2007. The top medical anthropology journal internationally, CMP provides articles on cross-cultural health research from leaders in the field of medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, and sociology. When Editor-in-chief Atwood Gaines and I took over the leadership, we expanded to include the humanities–history, and even literature as it informed the human story (and cultural context) behind medical practice. My work here has informed every aspect of my career; we seek to honor and engage culture, never privileging our own perspective. It’s about reaching out, learning, being part of the adventure, and if it’s taught me anything, it’s this: borders are for crossing, being life happens at the intersections.

CMP Journal

Science, Technology, Steampunk

What if the unusual collection of gadgetry so often depicted—from the recent reboot of Sherlock Holmes as a steampunk-flavored Robert Downey Jr. to the many novels and graphic novels from Jules Verne onward—were based in the reality of scientific innovation? The answer may surprise. Goggles, lenses, specialty glasses, steam-powered engines, boiling test tubes, experiments and experimental gear make up the eclectic tool kit of some unlikely “heroes” of history. They served no secret societies and fought no super-villains (alien or otherwise), but they did solve cases, stop diseases, and take enormous risks. Meet the scientists, medical doctors, philanthropists, and curious and intrepid souls who pushed new technology to its limits before the turn of the 20th century. My next book project takes a long look at the science behind the fiction.


Forensics, Toxicology, and Sherlock

You might say my research takes a “hands on approach.” That’s me with my hands on a jar of arsenic from the Dittrick’s forensics and toxicology archive. I’ve been collaborating with a colleague from Medical Heritage Library (Harvard) on the history of forensics. Deborah Blum’s book Poisoner’s Handbook details the work of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler in New York, but by then forensics as a field had largely solidified. What happened in the decades before, in the time between, say, Sherlock Holmes and the 1920s? The archive of John George Spenzer, a forensic toxicologist at the turn of the century in Cleveland, Ohio, has many of the answers…

American Sherlock

Conversations: Stimulating Discussion Across Time and Space

What laid the groundwork for anatomy instruction? How did we get from Sherlock to CSI? When did birth become “hospitalized”? What were the ramifications of the Comstock Acts (making birth control illegal in the US)? And, more importantly, how do these fascinating histories continue to change our world and shape our experiences? As part of the my work on Dittrick’s NEH funded digital history project, I’ll be offering a series of public forums.

Each will begin with a 15 minute presentation (a la TED talks): history of medicine rendered in all its quirky, vibrant detail. But these aren’t lectures—they are conversations. We are inviting the public to join a small audience of participants to engage in a discussion. Why? Because at the heart of medicine is the community, and your experiences, questions, and ideas matter.


Tracking the Mother Machine

A man stands in the center of the medical theater, surrounded by eager students. It’s the mid-eighteenth century and he’s delivering a baby. The uterus contracts. He fishes a spoon-like contraption on either side of the infant’s cresting head and then scissors them together for traction; these are the newly introduced forceps. A tug, and the baby slides forth from the womb to great applause. It’s an obvious triumph of new technology, but the doctor doesn’t press the infant into the waiting arms of its mother. No. He’ll spend the next few minutes shoving it back inside the womb. It may look like a flesh and blood woman, it may even be wearing a petticoat and stockings and the like, but the figure on the table is a mechanical mother, a contraption, a machine. She helped train 900 man-midwives in 10 years, she fascinated and horrified the public, and she vanished before the end of the century… I spent two and a half years hunting the device (in three countries, across two continents, and not a few remarkable basements). I tracked its journey to Dublin, where the trail went cold… but the search continues! {more}


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