From Library War Service to Science: Bibliotherapy in World War I

This Friday, we’d like to point you towards an online exhibit on bibliotherapy as used during World War I. This exhibit was created and curated by Mary Mahoney, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Connecticut. She is currently completing a dissertation on the history of bibliotherapy, or the use of books as medicine.

Most readers can think of a novel that offered some comfort, a poem that presented direction, or even a biography that provided inspiration. The notion that books can heal is as old as reading itself but, during World War I, doctors and librarians joined together to apply reading as a form of therapy.


Tuberculosis, Public Health, and Big Data

In case you missed it, last week we were proud to host five posts from Tom Ewing’s Data in Social Context class at Virginia Tech. Each post was written by a group of students who selected and researched a topic centered on tuberculosis and public health data in the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century. The data they used came from the Medical Heritage Library collections and we were privileged to talk to the students via Skype and be able to work with them on their drafts.

The posts are collected here for ease of reference — we highly recommend all of them! Continue reading

Guest Post: The Impact of Tuberculosis on Adults as Measured by Philadelphia’s Vital Statistics

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This final post is from E. Thomas Ewing and Nicholas Bolin.

The social impact of tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century was distinguished by the relatively high mortality rate among adult populations. This social impact can be graphically illustrated in a chart showing the relative number of deaths over a six year period in the city of Philadelphia due to the ten most common causes for the adult population, aged 20-50 years. Of these causes, tuberculosis accounts for nearly half — or the same number of the other nine causes combined. Of the approximately 33,000 adult deaths from all causes in this six year period, tuberculosis accounted for more than one-third (35.8%), more than three times as many deaths as other leading causes (typhoid fever, pneumonia, and accidents and injuries). As this graph suggests, the vital statistics collected and analyzed by government agencies, preserved by medical libraries in published form, and now widely accessible through the Medical Heritage Library in digital form are both an excellent source of data for analysis with modern tools and a basis for thinking about the ways that public officials used statistical analysis to identify health concerns and recommend appropriate policies. Continue reading

Guest Post: Tuberculosis in California: A Statistical Analysis From 1880-1910

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Jack Fleisher, Jae Ha, Joey Hammel.

We chose to explore tuberculosis in California because of a few interesting characteristics. One of these characteristics was the phenomenon of California being seen as a beacon of health and longevity in the late 1800s, and as a result, attracting many individuals sick with tuberculosis thinking that moving there was their best hope to recover and alleviate their disease.  We suspected that this would drive up the tuberculosis rates as the increase in the population of those previously diagnosed would raise the death rate above where it would be for the Californian-born population.   Continue reading

Guest Post: Tuberculosis in Boston: The Impact of Socioeconomic Factors

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Brian Yuhas, Claire Ko, Emma Rhodes.

The discussion of socioeconomic factors and their impact on tuberculosis came about as a result of our inadequate knowledge of the disease and our wish to delve deeper into how this disease influenced everyday life in the 1890s. Our research focused on whether economic status had an apparent effect on the deaths that occurred in Boston due to tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century. Did similar population densities have the same tuberculosis rates among different classes? Did wards with higher tax revenue experience higher or lower tuberculosis death rates? Through the 1890s Vital Statistics report for Boston, we were able to come to some conclusions about the correlation between wealth and likelihood of death due to tuberculosis in the city. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Experiments of Dr. Robert Koch: A Reconsideration of the Scientific Method for Evaluating Treatments for Tuberculosis

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Christian Averill, Robbie D’Amato, Nathan Gibson, and Jonathan Silbaugh.

During the nineteenth century, a widespread desire for a cure for tuberculosis prompted intense interest in any claims of a medical breakthrough in diagnosing and treating this disease. When German physician Robert Koch announced in 1882 that he had discovered that the cause of the disease was a bacillus known as M. Tuberculosis, his discovery was widely celebrated as a major medical breakthrough. Eight years later, however, his claims to have discovered a cure for tuberculosis aroused more substantive questions about the veracity of his claims as well as the methods, findings, and analysis advanced to support these claims. This post examines some of the evidence involved in this discussion with the goal of evaluating Koch’s claims relative to standard procedures used now to discover, test, and approve cures. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Phthisiophobia”: The Tuberculosis Clinic in New York City and Popular Anxieties about Public Health Dangers

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! The first is from Allyson Manhart, Andrew Pregnall, and Harshitha Narayanan.

TB_Infirmary_OpenToPatientsAt the beginning of the twentieth century the Treasury Department of the United States classified pulmonary tuberculosis as a “dangerously contagious disease” which meant that any immigrant found to have tuberculosis coming to the United States would be denied entrance. The ban led to a swift reaction from the physicians of the New York Academy of Medicine, many of whom argued that the ban created unnecessary fear of those with tuberculosis.
Continue reading

Our Reading List (#7)

We haven’t done a reading whip ’round in awhile so here are some of the things catching our eye this week…

As always, for more from the Medical Heritage Library, please visit our full collection!


Guest Post: Digital Publishing – Communities

We are delighted to be able to offer our readers this cross-posting from The New York Academy of Medicine blog series on Innovation in Digital Publishing.

The overwhelming tendency toward openness in digital networks presents both opportunities and challenges for contemporary scholarship, and in particular for the traditional structures that have facilitated and disseminated scholarship such as membership-based scholarly societies. Some of the challenges are obvious, and have been discussed in many other fora. The increasing demand for free access to products around which revenue models have long been built, for instance, challenges organizations to reinvent their fundamental orientation toward their stakeholders. For scholars, the network’s openness presents an increasing potential for information overload and an increasing difficulty in finding the right texts, the right connections, the right conversations at the right time.

All of these challenges are of course balanced by opportunities, however, as the network also presents the possibility of greatly improved access to scholarship and more fluid channels for ongoing communication and discovery amongst scholars. These opportunities suggest that an important role for scholarly societies will be in facilitating their members’ participation in these networks, helping to create new community-based platforms and systems through which their members can best carry out their work. Insofar as scholarship has always been a conversation—if one often conducted at a most glacial pace—the chief value for scholars should come in the ability to be full participants in that conversation: not simply getting access to the work that other scholars produce, but also having the ability to get their work into circulation, in the same networks as the work that inspired it, and the work that it will inspire. For this reason, the value of joining a scholarly society in the age of the network is less in getting access to content the society produces (the convention, the journal) than in the ability to participate.

However, this opportunity points toward a deeper, underlying challenge, for societies and scholars alike: building and maintaining communities that inspire and sustain participation. This is nowhere near as easy as it may sound. And it’s not just a matter of the “if you build it, they won’t necessarily come” problem; problems can creep up even when they do come. Take Twitter, for instance, which developed a substantial and enthusiastic academic user base over a period of a few years. Recently, however, many scholars and writers who were once very active and engaged on Twitter have begun withdrawing. Perhaps the drop-off is part of an inevitable evaporative social cooling effect. Perhaps at some point, Twitter’s bigness crossed a threshold into too-big. Whatever the causes, there is an increasing discomfort among many with the feeling that conversations once being held on one’s front porch are suddenly taking place in the street and that discussions have given way to an unfortunate “reign of opinion,” an increasing sense of the personal costs involved in maintaining the level of “ambient intimacy”that Twitter requires and a growing feeling that “a life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions.”

Gartner Hype Cycle, by Jeremy Kemp. Shared under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

What is crucial to note is that in none of these cases is the problem predominantly one of network structure. If we have reached a “trough of disillusionment” in the Twitter hype cycle, it’s not the fault of the technology, but of the social systems and interactions that have developed around it. If we are going to take full advantage of the affordances that digital networks provide—facilitating forms of scholarly communication from those as seemingly simple as the tweet to those as complex as the journal article, the monograph, and their born-digital descendants—we must focus as much on the social challenges that these networks raise as we do on the technical or financial challenges. To say, however, that we need to focus on building community—or more accurately, building communities—is not to say that we need to develop and enforce the sort of norms of “civility” that have been used to discipline crucial forms of protest. Rather, we need to foster the kinds of communication and connection that will enable a richly conceived panoply of communities of practice, as they long have in print, to work in engaged, ongoing dissensus without reverting to silence.