Healthcare history is more than leeches and drilling holes in skulls. It is stories of scientific failures and triumphs.
Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures presents a visual and narrative history of health and medicine in the United States, tracing paradigm shifts such as the introduction of anesthesia, the adoption of germ theory, and advances in public health. In this book, museum artifacts are windows into both famous and ordinary people’s experiences with healthcare throughout American history, from patent medicines and faith healing to laboratory science.
With 50 vignette-like chapters and 50 color photographs, Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures showcases little-known objects that illustrate the complexities of our relationship with health, such as a bottle from the short period when the Schlitz beer company sold lager that was supposed to be high in vitamin D during the first vitamin craze. It also highlights famous moments in medicine, such as the discovery of penicillin, as illustrated by a mold-culturing pan. Each artifact tells some piece of the story of how its creators or users approached fundamental questions in health. Some of these questions are, “What causes sickness, and what causes health?” and “How much can everyone master the principles of health, and how much do laypeople need to rely on outside authorities?”
Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures describes the days when surgeons worked on patients without anesthesia and wiped their scalpels on their coats, and the day that EMTs raced to provide help when the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001. The book discusses social and cultural influences that have shaped healthcare, providing insight relevant to today’s problems and colorful anecdotes along the way.
Tegan Kehoe is a public historian who specializes in the history of healthcare and science. She is the exhibit and education specialist at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and received her MA in history and museum studies from Tufts University.
Chapter 1: Unwashed Groins and Child Labor: Cancer in the Early Industrial Age
Chapter 2: George Washington’s Toothbrush
Chapter 3: The Age of the Vaccine
Chapter 4: No Wrong Way to Eat
Chapter 5: A Pioneering Operation
Chapter 6: Healing by a Higher Power
Chapter 7: Morton’s Ether Inhaler and the Advent of Anesthesia
Chapter 8: Bitters and Irregulars: Alternative Healing in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter 9: Blood Shed After the Battle: Bleeding Cups
Chapter 10: Under the Surgeon’s Tent: The Physician in the Civil War
Chapter 11: “Inflammatory Mischief” Meets Antiseptic Techniques
Chapter 12: Answering the Milk Question
Chapter 13: Skull Shape and Scientific Racism
Chapter 14: “Health and Comfort of Body, With Grace and Beauty of Form”
Chapter 15: East Meets West in the Medicine Cabinet: A Chinese Doctor in America
Chapter 16: The “Cure” That Wasn’t
Chapter 17: Cocaine the Medicine and the Drug
Chapter 18: Don Pedrito, a Legendary Healer
Chapter 19: A Wooden Leg in a Mechanized World
Chapter 20: A Community Doctor’s Legacy
Chapter 21: Carville, the “Louisiana Leper Home”
Chapter 22: The Professional Nurse Only
Chapter 23: The Pandemic of the Century: The 1918 Flu
Chapter 24: The Bubonic Plague Meets Bacteriology
Chapter 25: Safe, Simple, Sure? The Power of X-Rays
Chapter 26: “Are You Playing The Health Game?”
Chapter 27: The Problem with “Good” Genes
Chapter 28: Machinery and Machinations
Chapter 29: Diabetes: A Fatal Disease Becomes Chronic
Chapter 30: The Tools of a Contested Trade: A Midwife's Kit
Chapter 31: Sipping on the Sunshine Vitamin
Chapter 32: Preemie Care Beyond the World’s Fair
Chapter 33: The Penicillin Revolution
Chapter 34: Blood Transfusion Comes of Age
Chapter 35: Insuring and Ensuring Health
Chapter 36: Nursing at War
Chapter 37: The Science and Politics of Inhaling Dust
Chapter 38: Health Uplifted, Health Upended
Chapter 39: DDT: The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter 40: The Iron Lung and the Polio Epidemics
Chapter 41: Two Eras of Change in Pharmacy
Chapter 42: More than a Metaphor: The Straitjacket
Chapter 43: Changing Ways of Looking at the Gut
Chapter 44: The Pill's New Era of Choice (For Some)
Chapter 45: Smoking Under Scrutiny
Chapter 46: Ed Roberts and the Independent Living Movement
Chapter 47: Bypassing the Heart
Chapter 48: False Hopelessness or False Hope: The Early Years of AIDS
Chapter 49: September 11 and Emergency Response
Chapter 50: Saving Lives Amid the Opioid Crisis
About the Author
As the COVID-19 pandemic pushes public health and health care to the forefront of global concern, Kehoe offers great insight into how conceptualizations and treatments of disease and promotion of health have evolved over centuries through analysis of 50 medical artifacts. The collection would be a great supplement to George Rosen's canonical A History of Public Health though of course Kehoe's text brings readers closer to the present. The author's introduction notes that medicine has been variously conceived, whether as a progressive march forward of science or as a gruesome, macabre activity. The objects presented here include those representing both sides of the conceptual universe, from tools employed in developing vaccines and antibiotics, encapsulating the former, to some used in nefarious applications of eugenics and pesticide use, recalling the latter. The volume will be a great tool for students of public health history, presenting tangible evidence from the late 1700s to the present. Kehoe's text may also help contextualize current culture wars surrounding responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including popular debates about masking, vaccinations, and lockdowns. This is a great resource for undergraduates, scholars of medical history, and medical antiquarians. Highly recommended. All readers.
Like visiting a museum without ever leaving your favorite reading chair. Kehoe offers a fascinating selection of objects with lively and engaging interpretations.
Centered on the way tangible artifacts can encourage empathy with patients of the past, Kehoe’s well-sourced and approachable primer to the history of the health sciences through its material culture could start curious budding history enthusiasts on a lifelong love affair with the subject.
Though much of medical practice is now conducted digitally and virtually, illness and healing still exist as they always have in the realm of bodies, substances, and objects. In this informative and visually fascinating book Tegan Kehoe explores the history of medicine through the physical. George Washington’s toothbrush, an iron lung, a straitjacket, a nurse’s uniform, and an ambulance crushed on 9/11 are among the 50 artifacts through which Kehoe expertly captures the ingenuity, heroism, cruelty, and even humor of medicine through the ages.
11/14/21, Museum Archipelago Podcast: Tegan Kehoe was interviewed about the book.
3/28/22, DigBoston: Tegan Kehoe was interviewed about the book.
9/29/22, Choice Reviews: This book was highlighted as a top community college title.