Diagnosing the Past

The diagnosis: a skeletal doctor measures a patient’s pulse, L. Crusius / Wellcome Collection, Creative commons Texts that are hundreds of years old might yield clues to medical problems of the past. But without a body, a definitive diagnosis is rarely possible. And unless you know the context of what you’re reading, it’s possible to go[…]

Illuminated Manuscripts, Illuminating Medicines

From hunting rare bugs to harvesting the world’s most expensive plant parts, conservator Cheryl Porter will try almost anything to learn more about pigments from the past. These colours weren’t only used to illuminate manuscripts and paintings – they were also important medicines, and artists would often source the raw materials for their work from[…]

Why the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’ Defied Both Memory and Imagination

Books, music, artworks and memorials help ensure that victims of pandemics are remembered. But while the Black Death, AIDS and Ebola outbreaks are firmly part of our collective cultural memory, the Spanish flu outbreak has not been. Medical historian and author Mark Honigsbaum explains why. By Dr. Mark Honigsbaum / 10.25.2018 Lecturer in Medical History[…]

The ‘Blue Terror’: British Troops and Cholera in 19th-Century India

As Indians began to rebel against colonial rule, the British accused them of spreading cholera, little imagining who was really to blame. The terrors that confronted one colonist show how alarming the outbreak had become. By Anna Faherty / 06.06.2017 Associate Lecturer University of the Arts London India, 1857. In a British enclave, Katherine Bartrum watches her[…]

Typhoid Mary: The Cook Who became a Pariah

A healthy-seeming cook gained unwelcome notoriety as Typhoid Mary, unwittingly spreading disease to co-workers and employers. Ultimately, the New York authorities took extreme measures to protect the public. By Anna Faherty / 06.29.2017 Associate Lecturer University of the Arts London New York, 1907. Mary Mallon spreads infection, unaware that her name will one day become synonymous with[…]

The Stranger Who Started an Epidemic in 19th-Century New Orleans

A huge expansion of the population of New Orleans created the perfect environment for the spread of yellow fever, and recent immigrants were those that suffered most. Doctors put this down to their “loathsome” lifestyles, but science was eventually to find another culprit. By Anna Faherty / 06.15.2017 Associate Lecturer University of the Arts London[…]

The Poor Child’s Nurse in Victorian England

Charming family scenes in Victorian adverts for children’s medicines were in stark contrast to some of the dangerous ingredients that the products contained. Alcohol and opiates were among the substances helping to ‘soothe’ the nation’s children. By Briony Hudson / 10.12.2017 Pharmacy Historian, Curator, Lecturer British Society for the History of Pharmacy When young Betsy[…]

The Rise and Fall of a 19th-Century Medical Mesmerist

The story of a flamboyant doctor whose famous fans included Dickens. But his experiments with hypnosis eventually met with establishment disapproval. By Wendy Moore / 04.23.2018 Journalist and Medical Historian We think of libraries as places of quiet solitude where information is reassuringly organised, ordered and catalogued. Yet for me one of the best things about[…]

Medical Treatment and the English Seaside in the 18th Century

Venus’s bathing. (Margate). Side way or any way., Thomas Rowlandson / Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons Fashionable seaside towns in England owe much of their popularity to the 18th-century doctors who advised their patients to take the ‘sea cure’. By Dr. Jane Darcy / 05.23.2018 Professor of Literature University College London Introduction How did the so-called ‘sea[…]

Children as Victims of Anti-Vaxxers in 19th-Century Britain

In the 1850s, smallpox vaccination became compulsory in Britain. But the influence of anti-vaccination campaigners meant outbreaks were still possible – as one teenage girl found out to her cost. By Anna Faherty / 07.20.2017 Associate Lecturer University of the Arts London Gloucester, 1896. Ethel Cromwell is taken ill at the height of Britain’s last great smallpox[…]

A Tradesman Forced to Confront the Pestilence in 17th-Century London

A combination of poverty and “plague orders” in 1665 trapped many in situations that meant almost certain infection and death. Weaver John New, like many confined with dying relatives, was denied the escape routes open to the rich. By Anna Faherty / 06.22.2017 Associate Lecturer University of the Arts London The City of London, 1665. As the[…]

What Is Yellow Fever? Disease and Causation in Environmental History

Aedes aegypti Diseases are entangled with the human-made world, and to reduce diseases to their nonhuman aspects is to risk naturalizing them in distorting ways. By Dr. Paul S. Sutter Professor of Environmental History University of Colorado Boulder In many environmental histories, diseases serve to make one of the field’s foundational claims: that nonhuman forces matter[…]

History of the Flu

The Plague at Ashdod, by Nicolas Poussin / Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons The word influenza is derived from the medieval Italian word for “influence” (influentia) and referred to the perceived causes of the disease. By Jim Davis / 03.15.2017 PhD Candidate in History The Ohio State University You may not like getting your flu shot, but you[…]

Disease Evolution: Our Long History of Fighting Viruses

A virus is essentially an information system (encoded in DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protective coat. Tom Thai/Flickr, Creative Commons Humans have a deep history of viral infections, the evidence for which dates back to ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies. By Dr. Peter C. Doherty / 04.26.2016 Laureate Professor The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity A virus[…]

How Yersinia Pestis Evolved Its Ability to Kill Millions via Pneumonic Plague

How did Yersinia pestis bacteria start to target the lungs and become so deadly? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, CC BY It’s a deadly bacterium that can spread like wildfire. New research suggests Yersinia pestisfirst developed its ability to cause lung infection and then evolved to be highly infectious.    By Dr. Daniel Zimbler (left) and Dr. Wyndham Lathem (right) / 06.30.2015 Zimbler: Senior Scientist, Microbiology[…]

Fossil Evidence Reveals that Cancer in Humans Goes Back 1.7 Million Years

The earliest hominin cancer. Patrick Randolph-Quinney (University of Central Lancashire/University of the Witwatersrand) Cancer is not the modern disease many believe it to be. New fossil evidence from two South African caves suggests that its origins lie deep in prehistory.    By Dr. Patrick Randolph-Quinney (left) and Dr. Edward John Odes (right) / 09.12.2016 Randolph-Quinney: Reader/Associate Professor in Biological and Forensic Anthropology, University of Central Lancashire Odes: Postdoctoral Researcher, Bone Pathology[…]

Human Ancestors Had the Same Dental Problems as Us – Even Without Fizzy Drinks and Sweets

Teeth fossils with evidence of dental lesions from Australopithecus africanus. Ian Towle, Author provided Prehistoric humans and their predecessors may have had a very different diet but their teeth suffered in similar ways to ours. By Dr. Ian Towle / 03.01.2018 Sessional Lecturer in Anthropology Liverpool John Moores University Dental erosion is one of the most common tooth problems in the world today. Fizzy[…]

How Vaccination is Helping to Prevent Another Flu Pandemic

Nurse B.K. Morris gives a flu shot to Winifred Quinn during a press event on the flu vaccine, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) By Dr. Nicole Iovine, M.D., PhD / 03.06.2018 Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases University of Florida Researchers believe that over 50 million people worldwide died in[…]

How Historical Disease Detectives are Solving the Mystery of the 1918 Flu

     By (left-to-right) Dr. Gerardo Chowell, Dr. Cecile Viboud, and Dr. Lone Simonsen / 03.05.2018 Chowell: Professor of Mathematical Epidemiology, Georgia State University Viboud: Senior Research Scientist, National Institutes of Health Simonsen: Professor of Population Health Science, Roskilde University One hundred years ago, a novel pandemic influenza virus spread rapidly around the world. It killed about[…]

Plague Bacteria Hiding in Soil and Water Microbes, Waiting to Emerge

Children at a school in Antananarivo, Madagascar, during a plague outbreak, Oct. 3, 2017. AP Photo/Alexander Joe By David Markman / 02.26.2018 PhD Candidate in Biology (Biosecurity and Infectious Disease) Colorado State University Plague is a highly contagious disease that has killed millions of people over the past 1,400 years. Outbreaks still sporadically occur in as[…]

As Emerging Diseases Spread from Wildlife to Humans, Can We Predict the Next Big Pandemic?

Photo courtesy of PREDICT/Mike Cranfield Two ambitious projects aim to understand when and how the next human disease will emerge from wildlife, and what we can do to minimize harm when it does. By Karl Gruber / 12.07.2017 PhD Candidate in Biological Sciences University of Western Australia Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO)[…]

The Bizarre Reality of Cotard’s ‘Walking Corpse’ Syndrome

Photo from Max Pixel By Dolly Stolze / 10.31.2017 For me, zombies are probably the scariest of the iconic horror monsters because humans are either zombie food fighting for survival in a post-apolocalypic landscape or they are transformed into mindless walking corpses that are doomed to feed on the bodies of other people.  While these stumbling,[…]