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Teaching Points: Culture, Medicine, & Society: A Graduate Course in the History of Medicine

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: Building on successful contributions by Eoin Cannon and Caroline Acker, Points this week inaugurates a five-part series that looks at teaching alcohol and drugs as history, culture, and policy issue.  Each week we’ll feature two posts on the topic: a complete syllabus, followed by the instructor’s comments, questions, and musings on the teaching experience.  Our aim in this as in all things Point-y is to share work in progress (and yeah, teaching counts!), generate new ideas, and converse across the stupid disciplinary and institutional barriers that the contemporary academic and policy worlds like to throw up around us.  Contributing Editor Joe Gabriel kicks of the series, bringing a History of Medicine perspective to the topic of “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” In the next few weeks, look for Michelle McClellan talking about “Hooked: Addiction and American Culture”; Sarah Carnahan on”Women and Addiction”; Rob Echeverria and Sid Issar on “Drug Hedonism”; and Bruce Bagley on “Drug Trafficking in the Americas.”

Totoro, Joe Gabriel's Favorite Avatar

I’ve been on faculty at the Florida State University College of Medicine for four years now, and while I primarily teach medical students I also occasionally have the opportunity to teach in the history department here at FSU. This is the syllabus to a graduate course I put together which I called “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” As you’ll see, the class is a broad overview of the history of medicine in the United States. A mix of graduate students from the history department and from the department of religion took the course, which provided for some very interesting conversations.

Much of the material we covered did not directly overlap with the topics we talk about on this blog. Some of it did – such as our discussions about the history of the pharmaceutical industry – but in general we didn’t spend a significant amount of time talking about drugs, and virtually none talking about alcohol. (The one class I had scheduled to talk about addiction we spent talking about Bruno Latour instead). However, I think the general approach of the course overlaps with some of the conversations we have been having here; one of the themes in the class, for example, is how to think about the relationship between brains, genes, microbes, and other parts of the “material world” and social and cultural “discourses,” such as those of race, gender, and nation. I’ll discuss some of the dynamics in the class around these issues, and how I think the class might be improved, in my next post. For the moment, here is the syllabus. I hope you enjoy it.

History 6934-9794: Culture, Medicine, & Society in America Joseph M. Gabriel, Ph.D Department of Medical Humanities and Social Sciences College of Medicine, Florida State University

This course provides an introduction to the history of medicine in the United States. It is focused both chronologically and around the broad methodological question of how to approach medical history. A variety of questions will recur throughout the course and form the basis for much of our conversation, including: What is the relationship of social history, cultural history, and the history of science to medical history? Should we include things such as germs, genes, and brains in our historical narratives, and if so, how? What has been the influence of categories frequently thought of by historians as “socially constructed” – such as race and gender – on the production of biomedical knowledge, the clinical practice of medicine, and the experience of health and illness? How has power operated in the domain of health, healing, and illness? What is a disease anyway?

My hope for this course is that you will gain an overview of the field of medical history as a whole, a sense of how the history of medicine might inform your own research projects, and a more thoughtful understanding of clinical medicine and biomedical research today. I also hope to spend a substantial amount of time discussing issues related to professionalism and professional development.

Jan. 8: Introductions and course overview

Jan. 15: The history of medicine as the history of a profession Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, 1-78. John Harley Warner, The Therapeutic Perspective: Medical Practice, Knowledge, and Identity in America, 1820-1885 (Princeton UP, 1997), 1-80. Steven M. Stowe, Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (UNC Press, 2004), 1-75, 167-227. Norman Gevitz, “Three perspectives on unorthodox medicine” and William C. Rothstein, “The botanical movement and orthodox medicine,” both in Norman Gevitz, Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America (Johns Hopkins UP, 1988), 1-51.

Jan. 22: The history of medicine as the social history of disease Charles Rosenberg, The Cholera Years Sheila M. Rothman, Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History (Basic Books, 1994), 13-74. Charles Rosenberg, “Explaining epidemics” and “Framing disease: Illness, society, and history,” in Charles Rosenberg, Explaining Epidemics and Other Studies in the History of Medicine (Cambridge UP, 1992), 293-318. Margret Humphreys, “How four once common diseases were eradicated from the American South” Health Affairs (Nov/Dec., 2009), 1734-1744.

Jan. 29: The history of medicine as cultural history Michael Sappol, A Traffic of Dead Bodies. 1-97, 168-328. Sharla M. Fett, Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations *Elaine Forman Crane, “‟I have suffer‟d much today‟: The defining force of pain in early America” in Ronald Hoffman, et. al., Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America (UNC Press, 1997), 370-403. *Karen Halttunen, “Humanitarianism and the pornography of pain in Anglo-American culture” American Historical Review (100:2, 1995), 303-334.

Feb. 5: Institutions and the interpretation of madness David Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum Gerald Grob, Mental Institutions in America: Social Policy to 1875 (1973), 132-173. Andrew Scull, Social Order/Mental Disorder: Anglo-American Psychiatry in Historical Perspective (Routledge, 1989), 1-53. *Ian Hacking, “Madness: Biologic or Constructed?” in Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (Harvard UP, 1999), 100-124.

Feb. 12: The therapeutic revolution —-Due?: Essay #1 Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, 79-197. Ronald Numbers and John Harley Warner, “The maturation of American medical science” in Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers, Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health (U. Wisconsin Press, 1997), 130-142. *Jennifer Koslow, “Putting it to a vote: the provision of pure milk in progressive-era Los Angles” Journal of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era (3:2, 2004), 111-144. *Robert D. Johnston, “A populism of the body: The rationality and radicalism of antivaccinationism” in Johnston, The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon (Princeton UP, 2003), 177-217. *Bert Hansen, “America‟s first medical breakthrough: How popular excitement about a French rabies cure in 1885 raised new expectations for medical progress.” American Historical Review (103:2, 1998), 373-418. *JoAnn Brown, “Crime, commerce, and contagionism: The political language of public health and the popularization of germ theory in the United States, 1870-1950” in Ronald G. Walters, Scientific Authority and Twentieth-Century America, 53-81.

Feb. 19: The corporate reconstruction of medicine Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, 198-334 *Harry Marks, The Progress of Experiment: Science and Therapeutic Reform in the United States, 1900-1990 (Johns Hopkins UP, 1997), 1-70. *Nancy Tomes, “Merchants of Health: Medicine and Consumer Culture in the United States, 1900-1940” Journal of American History (Sept. 2001), 519-547. Joseph M. Gabriel, “A Thing Patented is a Thing Divulged: Francis E. Stewart, George S. Davis, and the Legitimization of Intellectual Property Rights in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, 1879-1911” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (April, 2009), 135-172. *Nicolas Rasmussen, “The Drug Industry and Clinical Research in Interwar America: Three Types of Physician Collaborator” Bulletin of the History of Medicine (79:1, 2005), 50-80.

Feb. 26: Race and nation Michelle T. Moran, Colonizing Leprosy: Imperialism and the Politics of Public Health in the United States Nancy Ordover, American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism *Warwick Anderson, “Excremental colonialism: Public health and the poetics of pollution” Critical Inquiry (21:3, 1995), 640-669. *Laura Briggs, “The race of hysteria: “Overcivilization‟ and the “savage‟ woman in late nineteenth-century obstetrics and gynecology.” American Quarterly (52:2, 2000), 246-273.

March 5: Technology and disease identity Keith Wailoo, Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth Century America (1999) Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, 335-449. *Tal Golan, “The authority of shadows: The law and X-Rays” in Tal Golan, Laws of Men and Nature (Harvard UP, 2004), 176-210. *Noėmi R. Tousignant, Pain and the Pursuit of Objectivity: Pain-Measuring Technologies in the United States, c. 1890-1975 (Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University, 2006), 1-46.

March 12: No class. Spring break

March 19: Foucault Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction

March 26: Bodies, science, and the (social?) construction of disease: addiction as a case study —- Due?: Essay #2 Sarah W. Tracy and Caroline Jean Acker, “Introduction: Psychoactive Drugs – An American Way of Life” in Tracy and Acker, eds., Altering American Consciousness: The history of drug and alcohol use in the United States, 1800-2000 (U. Massachusetts Press, 2004), 1-32. *Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine, “Crack in context: America‟s latest demon drug” and *John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer, “The social pharmacology of smokable cocaine: not all it‟s cracked up to be” in Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine, Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice (University of California Press, 1997), 131-170. Roy A. Wise, “Addiction becomes a brain disease” Neuron (26, 2000), 27-33. Alan Leshner, “Addiction is a Brain Disease, and it Matters” Science (Oct. 1997), 45-47. *Howard Kushner, “Taking biology seriously: The next task for historians of addiction?” Bulletin of the History of Medicine (80:1, 2006), 115-143. Nancy Campbell, “Toward a Critical Neuroscience of ‘Addiction'” Biosocieties (March 2010), 89-104.

April 2: Bodies, Science, and the (social?) construction of disease: depression as a case study Allan Horowitz and Jerome C. Wakefield, The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder Irving Kirsh, Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, selection. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, selection.

April 9: The pharmaceutical industry and the definition of disease Jeremy Green, Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease (2008) *Andrew Lakoff, Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry (Cammbridge UP, 2005), 1-54. *Mieka Loe, The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America (New York University Press, 2004), 1-62.

April 16: Biomedical research today Steve Epstein, Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (U. Chicago Press, 2007) *Stefan Timmermans and Marc Berg, The Gold Standard: The Challenge of Evidence-Based Medicine and Standardization in Health Care (Temple UP, 2003), 1-30. *Mary Ruggie, “Mainstreaming complementary therapies: New directions in health care” Health Affairs (July/August 2005), 980-990. *Jeffrey P. Baker, “Mercury, vaccines, and autism: one controversy, three histories” American Journal of Public Health (98:2, 2008), 2-11.

April 23: Mutations I Nikolas Rose, The Politics of Life Itself —–Due?: Essay #3

April 30: Mutations II Carl Elliot, Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream



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