Champagne and Strawberries to Celebrate New Books in Canuck HM and HN, with Emcee Casey Hurrell

In Academic Associations, Conferences, History of medicine, History of Nursing by Steve Palmer0 Comments

One of the delightful traditions of the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine is the annual champagne and strawberries reception, hosted and organized by the Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at Queen’s University, where authors of books or other major projects that have come out in the preceding year get two minutes to tell their colleagues about them.  Almost everyone at the conference comes to listen, raise a plastic cup filled with Spanish bubbly, munch on a strawberry or two, and think about the emerging shape of historiography and new practices in the field while they celebrate and register the success of their fellow society members.  They either get their chance to own the podium (briefly, before sharing it again) or sit there dreaming of next year when their major project will finally, hopefully, please, be published or otherwise publicly available.

Most of the papers presented during conference sessions are from work in progress.  At the champers and strawbs book launch we get to remind ourselves of the happy moment when the book or website or special edition of the journal, its text finely honed and polished, emerges from the shop and the author, in a state of disbelief, lovingly holds it in their hands at long last and realizes that people everywhere will now be able to read, in an aesthetically pleasing and accessible format, what they’ve thought about for so long.

This year, the 11th annual champagne and strawberries affair, the master of ceremonies duties fell to the engaging Casey Hurell, who had organized the list.  Casey is a doctoral student at Queen’s who delivered a timely conference paper on the prevention of war as primary care from the 1950s through the 1980s.  Displaying an impressive command of both official languages, she welcomed us to the event, thanked Queen’s University for supporting the reception, then expertly facilitated each two minutes of authorial glory with web browsing, projection on the big screen, and book modelling.

Jackie Duffin, said Queen’s Hannah Chair, kicked things off by showing us, on behalf of Aubie Angel and Michael Bliss of the University of Toronto,”Video Interviews with Medical Researchers in Canada,” a new website supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  Imagine a talk show where a multiple award-winning social historian of medical research acts as the interviewer and asks hugely influential figures in the making of modern science to take us through their research in detail, but make it intelligible to a non-specialist.  It’s enough to make you stop wasting those pop science Wednesday evenings with TED Talks and get to the heart of the matter.

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For a taste of this rich and growing archive of videotaped interviews, why not have James Till tell you how he helped come up with the theory behind the stem cell concept?

Benoit Majerus was unfortunately unable to make it to tell us about his new book, Parmi Les Fous: Une Histoire Sociale de la Psychiatrie au 20e Siecle.  This allowed me to tell people even earlier than planned about this very Canadian Treasury blog project that you’re reading now, and to tout the virtues of a book I’ve just co-written with Marcos Cueto, a professor at Fiocruz, Brazil’s amazing history of medicine, science and technology research institute.  Medicine and Public Health in Latin America: A History has just appeared in Cambridge University Press’s excellent “New Approaches to the Americas” series edited by the legendary scholar of Brazil and World History, Stuart Schwartz.  We were so lucky to have the book come out in such a high-profile series, but I was even luckier to have Marcos Cueto as a co-author since, simply put, he knows a lot more about this subject than I do and has done his own original research on virtually every subject we covered.  It was just an honour to work with him in bringing together the fabulous new historical work in this area that has been done over the past twenty years, most of it in a national context, and try to come up with a first continental synthesis.

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In her spare moments left over from organizing a dual society conference and running a major research unit, Marie-Claude Thifault, the University of Ottawa Chair in health and the francophonie, edited a new book with Henri Dorvil, Désinstitutionalisation psychiatrique en Acadie, en Ontario francophone et au Québec [Psychiatric De-institutionalization in Acadia, francophone Ontario and Quebec] (Presses de l’Université du Québec).  Not only that, the collection contains work from many of the research collaborators, both faculty and graduate students, who presented at the conference: Sandra Harrisson, Alexandre Pelletier-Audet, Isabelle Perreault, and of course Thifault herself.  Marie Claude is the most unassuming conference organizer I’ve ever seen, and she seemed to have gone from the podium before she even got there, while leaving a strong impression of the book.  A magician, for sure.

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We were then treated to nothing less than a new Heritage Minute on the history of Canadian nursing in the First World War by Michelle Filice, a doctoral candidate at Wilfred Laurier University who worked on the project.  It treated us to some moving picture vignettes to go along with Christine Hallett’s spotlight on Canadian nursing in the Belgian front’s Mobile no. 1, the subject of her keynote talk the previous day.

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Jonathan Reinarz, the hardest working man in the HM business, and who has planted the CanuckHM flag at the University of Birmingham in the UK, got to to tell us about not one, but TWO (!) new books: Complaints, Controversies and Grievances in Medicine, a collection he co-edited with Rebecca Wynter that has just come out with Routledge, and his solo-authored, long-time labour of love, Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell, published by the University of Illinois Press where it is also available in an economical e-book format.  Needless to say, the celebratory response was tinged with jealousy (not really — well, ok, sort of).

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This was followed by a rare mother-daughter collaboration in the history of medicine:  Vesna Blažina proudly presented her new McGill-Queen’s University Press book, Expelling the Plague: The Health Office and the Implementation of Quarantine in Dubrovnik, 1377-1533, co-written with her mum, Zlata Blažina Tomić, who smiled proudly beside the small stack of copies of the book brought along by Kyla Madden, the charming editor of McGill-Queen’s press who I understand are the one press who always attend the event.  What a moment.  And what a beautiful-looking book on this Adriatic world of dynamic trade and commerce where quarantine was first floated.
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Susan Lamb of McGill University got to hold up a substantial tome whose title promises a lot: Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry.  The book came out with arguably  the most prestigious publisher in the world for the history of medical research, Johns Hopkins University Press (well, actually there’s not much of an argument). Chatting with her later and browsing the jacket I realize that its subject is at the heart of one of my favourite historical concatenations, the beginnings of the modern medical school-teaching hospital-research complex, Johns Hopkins itself.
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A figure who quietly animated much of the conference with his positive presence, Alexandre Klein of the Université d’Ottawa, announced his new work, Histoire de la santé (18e-20e siècles): Nouvelles approches francophones.  Alexandre will no doubt e me with additional details, which I will add, since he told me he is following this blog and its twitter feed.  How come he has 2,019 followers and I only have 11?  Maybe because he’s a lot cooler than me.  Anyway, it’s not fair.
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It was great to see Juanita De Barros of McMaster University with her new book, Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery, fresh out with the University of North Carolina Press, which does so many great Caribbean titles.  I know the book is a product of many years thinking through and researching this complex and expansive topic in a wide variety of Atlantic archives.

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I know that because Juanita and I have a special history of collaboration.  We are editors of a book on the history of medicine in the Caribbean, along with David Wright, also a CSHM member and Canada Research Chair (not to mention the new head of the History Department at McGill University — congratulations on that!).  That book, which I waved around at the 7th annual Ch and Str event, made a unique contribution to historiography, but you’ll have to read it, or at least its introduction, to find out what it is.  There’s more.  Juanita and I also shared in scholarly service with the Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (we were both illustrious presidents, among other hugely prestigious positions that miraculously no one else ever seemed to want to hold).  I can safely say we were happy to see each other here, knowing that neither one of us was responsible for any business relating to the continuation of a Canadian academic society!  Not only that, we both got to present new books, and Juanita won praise for her innovative work on Caribbean history during the keynote lecture by one of the greatest living historians (more on that later).

Sandra Menenteau presented, with peremptory swagger, her book, L’autopsie judiciaire. Histoire d’une pratique ordinaire au XIXe siècle [The Judicial Autopsy. History of a common 19th-century practice.] (Presses Universitaires de Rennes).  I can see why she was so brief.  With a sexy Foucauldian title like that, and a neat cartoon image on the cover, it won’t take much to get people to want to read it.

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Christine Hallett, our Paterson Lecturer, humbly demurred from presenting her major Oxford University Press book, Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War, I guess because it had been featured during her talk and, well, because she’s just that kind of person.  We all celebrated anyway, especially when she asked Carol Helmstader, who has an essay in Hallett’s other new book, One Hundred Years of Nursing Practices, 1854-1953 (Manchester University Press) to do the honours of presenting that one.  Classy.  Wait a minute — Hallett published two books in the same year, too!  Must be something in the water in England.

Finally, the winning Erika Dyck of the University of Saskatchewan, a Canada Research Chair and historian of medical psychedelics and eugenics and lots of other stuff, told us about a special issue of the Canadian Journal of History (vol. 49, no. 3) that she edited.  It features work from an extraordinary postgraduate conference of the Society for the Social History of Medicine, held in 2013 for the first time ever outside Europe at the University of Saskatchewan, and in conjunction with the meeting of the mid-continental Manitoba-Ontario-Minnesota-Saskatchewan history of medicine group, which meets again this fall in Thunder Bay.

Erika was then joined on stage by Kenton Kroker of York University’s Science and Technology Studies, and they reminded us that they are the new editors of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, the CSHM’s own journal, sponsored by a generous grant from AMS, that is open access, bilingual and really, really good.  With these two impressive, nationally and internationally engaged scholars at the helm, I can only see it getting better.

Send your ideas and manuscripts to:  I know I’m going to.

Wow.  What an amazingly productive year of great titles with enormous range and some innovative projects that are trying to make material available to wider audiences in new formats.  And to think we didn’t even hear about all the journal articles, chapters in edited collections, book reviews, dictionary and encyclopedia entries, magazine articles, web posts, other conference papers, manuscript and grant reviews, pro bono specialist work for community museums and libraries, and so on, that all of us have done.  But we thought about them, as we sat and toasted the success of our peers in making significant new contributions to the history of humankind, especially the way it suffers, cares, senses, reproduces, and thinks about mind and body.

The event made us feel proud to be twin societies made up of contemporary and active scholars with extensive research networks, and who are publishing work in the best venues in the world.  Typical of these two associations, the pride was subdued and all the people who got to present were way too self-effacing (except me, of course).

It was a great way to end the second day of the joint conference, and allowed us to go off to an informal group dinner at a surprisingly decent and inexpensive Indian buffet where we dined together feeling that our individual work and our collective project were going well.

Thanks again to Jackie Duffin and Casey Hurrell for this.

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