History of Medicine Blog
Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library Room 153 (Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room)
Join the Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series for our next talk by Jeff Baker, M.D., Ph.D., on Technology, Hope, and Motherhood: What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator. At the turn of the last century, a new medical invention known as the infant incubator captured the imagination of physicians and the public. The device became a public sensation and appeared in settings ranging from hospitals to world fairs midway side-shows (complete with live infants). But in the process it set off a great controversy regarding whether so-called premature and weak infants should be rescued in the first place, and whether their care should be entrusted to mothers, physicians, or scientifically-trained nurses.
Dr. Baker is the Director of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at Duke University. He is the author of The machine in the nursery : incubator technology and the origins of newborn intensive care (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) and a leading authority on the history of neonatal medicine.
The talk will be held in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. All are welcome to attend. Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.
The post Technology, Hope, and Motherhood: What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
“It is an old complaint,” wrote the eighteenth-century Swiss physician Samuel-André-Auguste-David Tissot, “that study, though essentially necessary to the mind, is hurtful to the body.” Student health is the subject of a new exhibit entitled “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Health Advice for Scholars and Students,” now on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.Title page to Thomas Cogan. The Haven of Health… London, 1612.
Since antiquity, scholars and students have been bombarded with warnings about the potential health hazards associated with a life of sedentary study, the medical side effects of which have been said to range from a loss of vision, cramped posture, and consumption to melancholia, bad digestion, and even hemorrhoids. Heeding these warnings, scholars and students have for centuries turned to medical guides for advice on how best to counteract the effects of “hard study.” While such guides often vary as to specifics, all commend some form of attention to diet, exercise, and regimen as means to a long and healthy life, urging adherence to an ancient ideal: mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.“Health and Strength,” Wilbur Wade Card Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The items in the exhibit trace the history of medical advice written specifically for scholars and students and reflect the wide range of approaches to scholarly health. The exhibit, on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, runs through July 16, 2017.
A Sound Mind in a Sound Body is curated by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern
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Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections
Brains are really neat
Not just for zombies to eat
Come, give books a peek!
Charles Bell. The anatomy of the brain: explained in a series of engravings. London : T.N. Longman and O. Rees [etc.] 1802. Johann Dryander. Anatomiae, hoc est, corporis humani dissectionis pars prior. Marpurgi : Apud Eucharium Cervicornum, 1537.
The Society for Neuroscience states that while Brain Awareness Week is officially March 13-19, there are ways to be involved throughout the year. Similarly, we invite you to visit our History of Medicine Collections and other collections in the Rubenstein Library all year long, not just this week.
Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, the Josiah Charles Trent Intern in the History of Medicine Collections.
Given its designation as the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, you might assume, correctly, that the library’s History of Medicine Collections consist primarily of books and manuscripts, but did you know that they also boast a large collection of historical medical instruments and artifacts? Some of these objects are reassuringly familiar. Others, however, can seem somewhat more baffling.Perkins’s Tractors. History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s. History of Medicine Collections.
Take, for instance, the objects identified in the collection guide as “Perkins’s tractors.” At first glance, they are often mistaken for horseshoe nails. Historian James Delbourgo, who has written extensively about these so-called tractors, notes that they “were disarmingly simple things. A set consisted of two three-inch metallic rods made of brass and iron, and they sold for twenty-five continental dollars in North America, five guineas in Britain.” According to Delbourgo, their very simplicity was what made the tractors so appealing. At a time when doctors regularly resorted to such “heroic” measures as bleeding, blistering, vomiting, and purging, Perkins’s tractors offered a painless alternative, one that was less invasive but no less controversial.
The man behind these seemingly strange instruments was one Elisha Perkins of Connecticut. Born in 1741, Perkins received his medical training from his father, a physician in Norwich, before establishing his own practice in Plainfield. There, in the course of his practice, Perkins “discovered that, by drawing over the parts [of the body] affected in particular directions certain instruments which he formed from metallic substances into certain shapes, he could remove . . . most kinds of painful topical affections, which came under his care and observation.”
Perkins, it turns out, was quite the salesman. In 1796, he patented his tractors. Thereafter, Perkins and his son took to promoting them. Together, they published a series of pamphlets touting the tractors’ efficacy. These pamphlets invariably included testimonials from satisfied clients. Prominent among them were Jedidiah Morse, a Congregational minister; John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; and Josiah Meigs, professor of natural philosophy at Yale. Even George Washington himself is reputed to have owned a set.
Like other novel medical therapies, such as Galvanism and Mesmerism, Perkins’s were the subject of much popular attention, not all of it positive. Most regular physicians were skeptical of Perkins’s claims, so much so that in May of 1797, the Connecticut Medical Society expelled Perkins on grounds of quackery. Still other physicians sought to make sense of the tractors’ mysterious workings.
One such account can be found among the Benjamin Waterhouse papers. In a letter dated February 1, 1802, Abijah Richardson, a physician in Medway, Massachusetts, wrote to Benjamin Waterhouse, then a professor of medicine at Harvard, relating “an account of a Young Lady’s Case, who was relieved of a painful disorder by the use of a Metelic tractor.” In 1796, Richardson explained, he had been “called in to see Miss P.T. about eighteen years of age” who for several years “had been subjected to fits of the head-ach.” Having heard of Perkins’s tractors “being efficacious in relieving painful disorders,” Richardson decided to put the tractors to the test.Abijah Richardson to Benjamin Waterhouse. 1 February 1802. Box 1, Folder 2, Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1782-1841. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (Click image to enlarge!)
Without access, however, to a real set of tractors—he apparently did not have a set of his own—Richardson offered up “an artificial magnet which I supposed was of similar efficacy with the points.” After obtaining his patient’s consent, Richardson proceeded to draw “light parallel strokes from the temple & forehead above the right eye down to her neck & top of her shoulder.” Richardson here followed the method laid out by Perkins himself of “drawing the Points of the Tractors over the Parts affected, and continuing them along on the Skin to a considerable Distance from the Complaint, usually towards the Extremities.” Richardson went on to recount how, in the course of her treatment, his patient’s pain, following the strokes of the tractors, “gradually abated & left her.” From this, Richardson “was led to suppose that the tractors relieved pain by attracting & conveying heat from the pained part.”Title page to John Haygarth’s experiment involving Perkins’s tractors.
In 1800, John Haygarth, a physician in Bath, England, published the results of an experiment that cast doubt on the tractors’ efficacy. In 1799, having “contrived two wooden Tractors of nearly the same shape as the metallick, and paints to resemble them in colour,” Haygarth set out to test whether these “fictitious tractors” could produce the same effect as “the true metalliack Tractors of Perkins.”
Much to his surprise, both sets of tractors “were employed exactly in like manner, and with similar effects,” leading Haygarth to conclude that the “whole effect undoubtedly depends upon the impression which can be made upon the patient’s Imagination.” Haygarth’s experiment was one of the first documented demonstrations of what later came to be known as the placebo effect.
Despite their critics, Perkins’s tractors continued to be commercially successful, even after the death of their inventor in 1799. They even went on to become the subject of a poem satirizing the medical profession.
To explore these and other items from the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection, check out the collection guide, which contains descriptions and images for many of the items. Also, stop by the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room at the Rubenstein Library to see a rotating selection of items from the collection on permanent exhibit.Footnotes:
 James Delbourgo, A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 240.
 Ibid., 251.
 Benjamin Douglas Perkins, The Influence of Metallic Tractors on the Human Body (London, 1798), 5-6.
 Ibid., 69, 9, 37.
 Ibid., 9.
 Abijah Richardson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1 February 1802, Box 1, Folder 2, Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1782-1841, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
 Benjamin Perkins, Directions for Performing the Metallic Operation with Perkins’s Patent Tractors [London, 1798].
 Richardson to Waterhouse, 1 February 1802.
 John Haygarth, Of the Imagination, as a Cause and as a Cure of Disorders of the Body; Exemplified by Fictitious Tractors and Epidemical Convulsions (Bath, 1800), 3.
 Ibid., 3, 4.
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