History of Medicine Blog
The Rubenstein Library’s three research center annually award travel grants to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars through a competitive application process. Congratulations to this year’s recipients, we look forward to working with all of you!
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture
Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia.”
Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “Burgeoning zine aesthetics in the 1980s through the censored Conference Diary from the controversial Barnard Sex Conference (1982).”
Kirsten Leng, assistant professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Breaking Up the Truth with Laughter: A Critical History of Feminism, Comedy, and Humor.
Linda Lumsden, associate professor, School of Journalism, University of Arizona, The Ms. Makeover: The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine.
Mary-Margaret Mahoney and Danielle Dumaine, Ph.D. candidates, history, University of Connecticut, for a documentary film, Hunting W.I.T.C.H.: Feminist Archives and the Politics of Representation (1968-1979, and present).
Jason McBride, independent scholar, for the first, comprehensive and authorized biography of Kathy Acker.
Kristen Proehl, assistant professor, English, SUNY-Brockport, Queer Friendship in Young Adult Literature, 1850-Present.
Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism.
History of Medicine Collections –
Cecilio Cooper, PhD candidate in African American Studies, Northwestern University, for dissertation research on “Phantom Limbs, Fugitive Flesh: Slavery + Colonial Dissection.”
Sara Kern, PhD candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State University, for dissertation work on “Measuring Bodies, Defining Health: Medicine, Statistics, and Civil War Legacy in the Nineteenth-Century America.”
Professor Kim Nielsen, Disability Studies & History, University of Toledo, for research on her book, The Doctress and the Horsewhip, a biography of Dr. Anna B. Ott (1819-1893).
John Hope Franklin Research Center –
Beatrice Adams, Rutgers University – Why African Americans remained in the American South during the Second Great Migration.
Gretchen Henderson, Georgetown University – A narrative and libretto for an opera rooted in African American slavery and history entitled CRAFTING THE BONDS
Maria Montalvo, Rice University – All Could Be Sold: Making and Selling Enslaved People in the Antebellum South (1813-1865)
Nick Witham, University College London, Institute of the Americas – “The Popular Historians: American Historical Writing and the Politics of the Past, 1945-present”
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History –
FOARE Fellowship for Outdoor Advertising Research:
Dr. Francisco Mesquita, Fernando Pessoa University, Portugal, “Billboard Graphic Production and Design Analysis”
John Furr Fellowship for JWT Research:
Jeremiah Favara, University of Oregon, “An Army of Some: Recruiting for Difference and Diversity in the U.S. Military”
Alvin Achenbaum Travel Grants:
Megan Elias, Borough of Manhattan Community College, “Be His Guest: Conrad Hilton and the Birth of the Hospitality Industry”
Sarah Elvins, Department of History, University of Manitoba, “Advertising, Processed Foods, and the Changing Notions of Skill in American Home Baking, 1940-1990”
Alison Feser, Anthropology, University of Chicago, “After Analog: Photochemical Life in Rochester, New York”
Spring Greeney, Environmental History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Line Dry: And Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1841-1992”
Elizabeth Castaldo Lunden, Media Studies – Center for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University, “Oscar’s Red Carpet: Celebrity Endorsements from Local to Global (A Media History)”
Eric Martell, History, State University of New York – Albany, “Kodak Advertising in the U.S. and Latin America, 1920-1960”
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With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I traveled to Duke University to view and photograph historical obstetric and gynecological tools housed in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. There I viewed various artifact collections donated by practicing regional doctors, including the L. M. Draper Collection, the George D. & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection, and several anonymous collections. I also viewed anatomical lift-the-flap guide books, lift-the-flap anatomical fugitive sheets and the Trent Collection of Ivory Anatomical Manikins, all of which were used to teach medical procedures, including delivery.
Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience. I treated it like a short artist residency. I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library. Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides. It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents. For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time. In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested. I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way. I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.
My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today. I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology. While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed. Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section. Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women. I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child. I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today. It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.
My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses. Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today. The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows. Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides. I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.
Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.
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As the Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections, I have the opportunity to work with closely with a number of rare books, manuscripts and artifacts spanning hundreds of years and several continents. Because I’m here for a brief period of time, I’ve had to immerse myself in the materials in order to become familiar with them. While learning about the breadth and depth of the collections, one item in particular stood out to me: the nkisi nkondi figure in the History of Medicine artifacts collection.
Nkisi nkondi figures come from the Kongo people, a Bantu ethnic group located in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nkisi are spirits or objects that spirits inhabit, and nkondi are an aggressive subclass of nkisi that are used to punish wrongdoing and enforce oaths.
The figures were created collaboratively between sculptors and spiritual specialists called nganga. The wooden figure would be carved by the sculptor, and they could range in size from less than a foot tall, like the figure in the Trent Collection, to lifesize. The sculptor would create a cavity in the head or stomach, which then would be packed with materials chosen for their spiritual significance, such as dirt from an ancestor’s grave. The cavity would then be covered by a mirror or glass, which was believed to allow the spirit to peer through into our world. The figures were often created at the edge of a village because it was the borders and entrances that needed to be protected from outside harm.
The nails in the figure indicate the number of times the spirit was invoked. The spirit would then hunt down wrongdoers, such as thieves or an oath breaker. Nkisi nkondi were used publicly by entire villages and tribal leaders and were intended to protect the innocent. Use by an individual for private gain was considered to be witchcraft.
Although nkisi nkondi figures have been made since at least the sixteenth century, the nailed figures which are predominantly found in western collections were most likely made in the northern region of the Kongo cultural area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the availability of nails, nganga would invoke the spirit through other means such as banging two figures together.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonizers from Belgium, France, and Portugal viewed the figures as weapons of resistance. Missionaries removed them through coercion, or force if necessary, in an effort to remove what was seen as their pagan influence over villagers. Most figures found in western collections were removed during this time period. Because of this history, provenance of the figures can prove to be elusive. Today, the beliefs that underlie these figures still exist, but they no longer take these elaborate forms.
The nkisi nkondi figure is currently on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room as part of an exhibit celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the collection’s arrival at Duke University, which will be up through the end of June.
Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections
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