Best of the Conference Rest II: The Segall Prize for best grad student paper

In Conferences, Health Activism, History of medicine by Steve Palmer0 Comments

With a bit of time and perspective I’ve realized that, rather than a failure on my part to semi-live blog, the joint CSHM/CAHN conference resisted semi-live blogging by being too good and deep for that.  In fact I’m glad I didn’t try, because it wouldn’t have captured what was going on, and I would have missed that myself in the attempt.

That was a a conference of great quality.  Geoff Hudson, of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, who was one of the adjudicators for the Segall Prize for the best paper given by a graduate student at the CSHM conference, commented that it was a very tough task simply because they were all so good.  And before I tell you who the winner was, I should point out that the judges — Hudson, Alexandre Klein (Université d’Ottawa) and in-coming CSHM President, Sasha Mullally (University of New Brunswick) — attended a total of 23 papers (can that be right?) that were eligible for the prize.  Though Hudson’s comment suggests that it was rewarding, that’s still a huge commitment of dedicated service and sacrifice, in that it precludes one’s ability to take in the conference according to your own schedule and interests.  That in itself says a lot about the quality of this association.

The expertise of this court of academic opinion determined that the 2015 Segall Prize for best paper delivered by a graduate student was “How Late is Too Late? Negotiating the Age Limit for Pregnancy in 20th-Century America”, delivered by Jenna Healey who is doing a doctorate at Yale University in the Department of History, having done an MA in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto.  You can read a bit about Jenna’s life and work on her Yale page by going to:

Having just gone there and read it, I can tell you that it’s worth doing, and that having done so I’m really sorry I didn’t get to meet her because other than being incredibly smart and engaged (which I could have guessed from the prize thing) she is also interesting and funny.  Congratulations to her on the Segall Prize.  We look forward to a great dissertation on 20th-century reproductive medicine and technologies in the USA — maybe on the National Organization for Non-Parents and the childfree movement of the 1970s.

I’d never heard of this organization or movement, which seem very interesting to me as the father of a teenage boy (just kidding, Emil).  I believe, however, that Good Parents of Bad Children, a Canadian society that was occasionally featured on CBC’s The Great Eastern in the 1990s, may be an offshoot of the same activist energy, though evidently its members were not as successful in the struggle as their American cousins.

All joking aside, congratulations to all the graduate students who presented at CSHM, some of whose papers I was lucky enough to take in.  I’ve already written about how impressed I was by Université d’Ottawa student, Alexandre Pelletier-Audet’s paper on suicide in Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the papers in the same session on Ottawa’s Montfort hospital by Sandra Harrisson and the Belleville school for the deaf by Alessandra Osso Duval.  And I was impressed again by the poise, precision and intellectual agility displayed by Christine Chisholm, an award-winning Carleton student who, with Suzanne Klausen, presented the findings of their expansive research collaboration on the transnational impact of the thalidomide tragedy on abortion legislation and drug regulation in the British Empire.  My own panel, where I presented the story of health and medicine at Expo 67, was graced with a fine paper about Ottawa’s public baths in the 1920s by Ornella Nzindukiyimana of Queen’s University.

Finally, a highlight of the conference for me: a doctoral student from the University of Brasilia who is a visiting researcher at the Nursing History Research Unit, Luciana Brito, made a subtle presentation of the “files of an abandoned man”, the tragic facts of the story of the longest-serving inmate in Brazil’s psychiatric prison system.  Aside from the quiet eloquence of the paper that so nicely “echoed” the tale of a man who had never spoken to the staff during his 47 years of incarceration, Ms. Brito’s talk allowed me, for the first time, to sit beside Natalie Zemon Davis and see how one of the greatest historians of our age listens to others and thinks about their work, and then to hear one of the greatest ever historians of France (and think about that for a minute!) speak French.  And together with the equally generous thoughts of Thomas Voth of the University of Ottawa, who chaired the panel, Professor Davis’s questions and comments brought out the truly unique and extraordinary significance of this case of “humanitarian” human rights violation, and of a man whose very persistent silence was the basis of the evolution of an institutional narrative about him that became increasingly and grotesquely divorced from the facts of his “file”.  It’s worthy of a Javier Marías novel.  Except, of course, it isn’t fiction — it’s history.

To those graduate students whose papers I missed, and who I don’t name here, congratulations as well on having been such a big part of the success of this joint conference, and good luck in the great and all-important goal of not being a graduate student any more.  Seriously, I can tell you that you are lucky to be in the orbit of the fine certified scholars who make up the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine and the Canadian Association for the History of Nursing, but also that we are lucky to enjoy a graduate student culture, made by you, of such depth and quality.



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