Microphagia-Flea-home page

Detail from Microphagia, a book by Robert Hook, published in 1665 in London. 

This course considers the values that shape the practice of medicine. Through immersive engagement with materials from Rauner Special Collections Library dating from the 15th-21st centuries, inclusive of Dartmouth's medical school archives, we examine the ethical formation of physicians, the social construction of medicine's gaze onto and into humanity, and the social lives of medicines. We use the research and writing tools of ethnography -- structured observation, interviews, reflective writing, archival exploration, and sociocultural analysis -- to examine the cultural roots and contemporary expressions of "western" medicine.

Sections focus on the social history of anatomical knowledge; the gendering of medicine through midwifery and the rise of obstetrics as a field; the family doctor across lines of race, class and geography; the relationship between body and mind with respect to "mental" illness; and the production of medicines as therapeutic objects. Students' final writing projects involve curating their own virtual exhibits.

This year's class is focusing in on epidemic disease, across time and space, from the 17th-century London Plague to the 19th- and early 20th-century proliferation of "hysteria" as a diagnostic category and an epidemic in its own right; from the cholera pandemic that spread from Old World to New in the 1830s, to the late 18th- and early 19th-century transmission of smallpox. Each of these exhibits tells a story using primary materials from Rauner Special Collections Library. And, each of these exhibits prompt important questions -- cultural, epidemiological, and political -- about the nature of epidemic disease and crucial reflections on how these moments of the past can inform our understanding of the present pandemic.

Credits and Acknowledgements 

We would like to thank Jay Satterfield, Director of Special Collections, and Laura Braunstein, Digital Humanities Librarian, for the many ways they have made this course and associated exhibits possible.  We would also like to thank Betty Kim, Digital Library Fellow, for her assistance. 

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