Friday, October 27, 2006

Old foes

The lecture for the second-year history of medicine elective class today was given by Dr. Alan Barker from the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. He spoke on the history of mankind's struggle with pneumonia, one of the oldest known diseases, first recorded by Hippocrates about four hundred years before the common era. He hit all the high spots: Auenbrugger and Laennec, Frankel and Friedlander, blood-letting versus sulfa drugs, the terrible illness and miraculous cure of Winston Churchill on the eve of war.

Pneumonia shares its antiquity with the White Plague, tuberculosis, evidence of which has been found in mummies dating from 4,000 years before the common era. Both of these diseases are caused by hardy germs, and there's new evidence that TB may only be getting hardier. The current issue of American Scientist (Nov/Dec 2006; 94(6)) has a small article about research originally published in Science (June 30, 2006; 312(5782)) by Sebastien Gagneux and Clara Davis Long which shows that prolonged treatment for TB can result in multi-drug resistant strains with no fitness defect--meaning that these bugs are better by far.

What does this portend for mankind? While it is an unexpected discovery, it's probably not yet time to panic. For thousands of years we have been engaged in this battle, now an escalating arms race, but I for one have faith that medical researchers will parry this thrust with new treatments.

By the way, if you're interested in pursuing the history of pneumonia through primary sources, we have a couple of 19th century texts and an 18th century text in the History of Medicine Collection, as well as books by Hippocrates, Auenbrugger, and Laennec; we also have a good amount of material on tuberculosis.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Whitman Collection

The Whitman Collection is a little used subcollection here in the History of Medicine Room, but it tends to draw more than its fair share of reference queries from researchers all over the country. Mostly, patrons who contact us want to know whether we have images of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman which they can use in publications or presentations. One of the more interesting things, to me, is that the image of Marcus we use to publicize the collection bears the caption: There is no authentic picture of Dr. Marcus Whitman. This is said to resemble him. History is obviously enlivened by images, and the requests we get for copyright permissions for publication bear that notion out strongly.

But what about the Collection itself? Our informational page on the website notes that the collection contains copies of the books Marcus used to care for the Cayuse Indians at the mission, as well as books about the Whitmans themselves. Where did it come from? Why is it here? In the 1937-38 annual report for the Library, Bertha Hallam mentions getting started on building a Marcus Whitman collection. Just that year (1937), the mission’s book collection, missing since the massacre in 1847, was rediscovered by a professor at the Western Reserve University medical school in Cleveland, Frederick C. Waite. He donated the collection of 56 titles to the Whitman College historical museum in Walla Walla. Bertha and Dr. Olof Larsell learned of this, and Bertha acquired a list of the titles donated from the librarian at Whitman College. From this list, Bertha was able to recreate the collection in our Library. Waite’s own book, Medical Education of Marcus Whitman is also available in the Whitman Collection.

And what of Marcus and Narcissa and their history? The National Park Service is working to keep the memory alive at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site; check out the full story on their website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New places, no places

We now have three open reference questions concerning campus architecture; it's odd how these things tend to come in packs. So, I've been learning much more about the buildings here on Marquam Hill on a daily basis, and today has been no exception.

Looking through the three Portland-based volumes of the seven-volume Ellis Lawrence Building Survey (held at University of Oregon), I came across three very interesting entries:

Psychopathic Hospital, U of O Medical School
Contagious Hospital, U of O Medical School (meant to adjoin the psychopathic hospital)
Multnomah County Hospital

Of the first, the inventory notes that it "was planned in 1933 but was contingent upon WPA funds which did not come through.... Later, in 1944-45, a proposal was again made for a psychiatric hospital which was again not built." While the money for the University-State Tuberculosis Hospital did come through in the 1930s, apparently contagious diseases as a whole were not as compelling to funding agencies.

Why would I single out Multnomah County Hospital as particularly interesting? Because, as it turns out, Lawrence didn't build it. The "significance statement" in the inventory reads: "According to a letter date 7/9/19, EFL [Ellis F. Lawrence] to Schroff stated, '...politics robbed us of the County Hospital, which went to Sutton and Whitney in spite of all the Regents could do.'" Especially interesting, since Lawrence almost didn't get the nod to design the campus' first building, the Medical Science Building (now called Mackenzie Hall) because of confusion over who was in charge of picking the architect (Medical School Dean Mackenzie or UO administrators). Who knew architectural history would involve such high drama!

Finally, a note about the "Arieta Branch" mentioned in Monday's post. The Multnomah County Library reference librarians came through in a flash and pointed out the spelling error: the Arleta Branch was in operation in southeast Portland from the early 1900s until it was replaced by the Holgate Library in 1971.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

History goes online

In yet another giant leap for research in the history of science (and small slap to soulless projects like Google Print), a consortium of British institutions recently unveiled The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, or, for those with less time on their hands, The Major Works of Charles Darwin. The site even includes audio clips of the works for the visually impaired. While some of the images require a fairly robust Internet connection, and while the site design leaves a little to be desired, it cannot be denied that the ability to search free text keywords across the entire Darwinian corpus is incredibly cool.

We have been criticized on more than one occasion for not have our own copy of the first edition of the Origin of Species here in the History of Medicine Collection. Since acquiring such a volume would run the university upwards of $80,000, it's highly unlikely that we'll be getting one anytime soon. Until then, what better substitute than the online version--text, images, and each of the succeeding five editions, all comparable with a mouse click. Actually, that's almost better than the physical book (but only almost!)

If you are curious to hold some Darwiniana in your own two hands, come by the History of Medicine Room to see our humble volumes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

New faces, new places

Today, I have reached the end of the unprocessed glass lantern slides. Waiting at the end were, as always, the most unusual and the toughest to identify. One of the unusual ones is what must be a reproduction of a much larger printed mock-up or collage, labeled "Hospitals and Clinics Affiliated with the University of Oregon Medical School." The image is undated, but my guess would be early 1930s because the University-State Tuberculosis Hospital is not among the institutions pictured. The grouping includes some familiar names, and others wholly new to me:

Good Samaritan Hospital
Portland Free Dispensary
Albertina Kerr Nursery
Emanuel Hospital
Portland Medical & Surgical Hospital
South Portland Neighborhood House
Portland Eye-Ear-Nose-Throat Hospital
White Shield Home
Arieta Branch Library
Portland Sanatorium
St. Vincent Hospital
Isolation Hospital
Multnomah County Hospital

The Isolation Hospital was also familiarly known as the Pest House, and that's actually the name under which it was originally indexed in our Historical Image Collection. Many of these institutions have passed away into the realm of memory; luckily, several of our oral history interviewees have anecdotes about one or another of them (check out the Oral History Master Index, and search under hospital to get references.)

The Arieta Branch Library is an interesting one: I have emailed the Multnomah County Library System to see if they have more information on where that might have been located.

We tend to think only of the People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary when considering the early community health outreach efforts here at the school; clearly, there is more research to be done into the extent of the school's presence in the neighborhoods of the Portland area!