Thursday, June 05, 2008

History of medicine: redressing the balance

Iago Galdston's preface to Bernhard J. Stern's book, American Medical Practice in the Perspectives of a Century criticizes the history of medicine as it had been written to date (1945):
The illumination and guidance to be gained from past experience are particularly needed in the definition and resolution of the many intricate problems in medical care which confront us today. To understand the nature and quality of these problems, to venture some reasonable patterns for their solution, it is essential that we know a good deal about their origin. And for this we must turn to history.

The history of medicine has been cultivated with especial skill and enthusiasm during the last one hundred years. As a result, the events and personalities of medicine are today better known to a greater number of persons than ever before. This is a gratifying achievement, but it is not entirely without untoward effects. For all sectionalism gives rise to a distortion in perspectives, and the history of medicine, which is but a section of the history of mankind, has too often been treated as a thing apart. With little or no account being taken of other contemporary historical events, the resultant picture of what happened in medicine is bound to be distorted and, in parts, unintelligible.
And so, we here in Historical Collections & Archives, along with others in different repositories around the country, try to collect not just the scientific output of physicians, nurses, dentists, and other healthcare professionals, but also materials pertaining to other areas of their lives, their correspondents and colleagues, the cultures in which they operated at a given moment in history. We hope that there will always be researchers as sensitive as Dr. Stern, who recognize the value of context.

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