Shoot the rats, don’t eat them

Margaret Humphreys will give a talk on the history of Civil War medicine on Feb. 29 at 6pm at the New York Academy of Medicine (details below).

My favorite part of her talk description is this:

In the northern hospitals men shot rats as a target practice game; in the south they roasted them for lunch. Important aspects of the best care were nutritious food, medicines such as chloroform, quinine, and opium, and sufficient staff to ensure cleanliness and care of the weakened or wounded body.

Humphreys posits that the differences in medical care might have played a role in the war’s outcome. I just love any framing that makes Civil War hospitals look good. Of course, I love to point to the Civil War as a good moment for American statistics too: draft and volunteer medical examinations created a data-set that was unprecedented at its time for its inclusion of so many normal or average Americans. Plus the Civil War made political space for the creation of the Land Grant Colleges, and thus paved the way for federal funding of science in the US.

Anyhow, keep reading to see Humphrey’s full talk description. Via h-net.

New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on the History of Medicine and
Public Health is pleased to announce the second talk in a three-part
miniseries of lectures by prominent historians of Civil War medicine,
marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

“Of Wards and War”: The Importance of Good (and Bad) Medical Care in the
American Civil War
Margaret Humphreys, MD, PhD, Duke University
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Light refreshments at 5:30 pm; lecture at 6 pm.

Location: The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd
Street, New York, NY 10029

During the crisis following the Haitian earthquake of 2010 one physician
commented that “we’re practicing Civil War medicine here,” referring to
the absence of supplies and primitive environment of care. Actually, the
well-run Civil War hospital offered superior care to that possible in
quake-ravaged Haiti. This paper will outline the components of the best
and worst of Civil War medicine, and argue that the conditions in
southern hospitals were so far inferior to those of the north that it
probably made a difference to the war effort. In the northern hospitals
men shot rats as a target practice game; in the south they roasted them
for lunch. Important aspects of the best care were nutritious food,
medicines such as chloroform, quinine, and opium, and sufficient staff
to ensure cleanliness and care of the weakened or wounded body. It is
difficult to assess hospital outcomes due the quality of the data, but
what information is available indicates that the disparities between
northern and southern hospitals were a factor in the manpower issues
that dominated the war’s final years.
Margaret Humphreys is the Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History
of Medicine at Duke University, where she holds appointments in the
Departments of History and Medicine, and edits the Journal of the
History of Medicine. Her classes include the history of medicine, public
health, global health, and evolution. She received her PhD in the
History of Science (1983) and MD (1987) from Harvard University, and is
the author of _Yellow Fever and the South_ (Rutgers, 1992) and _Malaria:
Poverty, Race and Public Health in the United States_ (Johns Hopkins,
2001), books that explore the tropical disease environment of the
American South, and its role in the national public health effort. Her
current research concerns the impact of the Civil War on American
medicine. The first book to emerge from that project, _Intensely Human:
The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War_, appeared in
2008.

To register for this event, visit
http://support.nyam.org/site/Calendar?id=102101&view=Detail

SAVE THE DATES for the rest of the season of lectures:
~~~~~
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Hired to Care: Civil War Nurses and the Military Body
Jane E. Schultz, PhD, Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

Thursday, April 5, 2012
The Annual Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture
Something Borrowed, Something Blue: The Strange History of Aristotle’s
Masterpiece
Mary Fissell, PhD, Johns Hopkins University

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Lilianna Sauter Lecture
Escaping Melodramas: Historical Thinking and the Public Health Service
Studies in Tuskegee and Guatamala
Susan M. Reverby, PhD, Wellesley College

For complete descriptions of each lecture, and to register to attend,
please visit:
http://www.nyam.org/library/rare-book-room/lectures/ ; or contact:

Arlene Shaner
Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections
New York Academy of Medicine
ashaner@nyam.org
212-822-7313
Email: ashaner@nyam.org

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