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Current Seminar Series

Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI) Seminar Programme


Our hybrid seminars will run between 4 and 5pm Dublin time. The in-person presentations will take place in room K114 (Newman Building, UCD) and be live-streamed via zoom (registration links below). 

Spring Term 2024


Hygienic surveillance in early twentieth-century Algeria

Hannah-Louise Clark (University of Glasgow)

Abstract:  When French Republican laws on medicine and public health were introduced to colonized Algeria from the last decade of the 19th century, accredited medical professionals and state officials became formally required to report certain epidemic diseases. Laws were applied piecemeal, initially in major colonial cities. From 1908, regulations on quarantine, isolation, and smallpox vaccination were extended to  communes de plein exercice , that is, towns and European settlements governed by elected mayors. Gradually and unevenly, versions of the sanitary regulations spread to the communes mixtes, vast rural territories where unelected French officials ruled over much of the Muslim Algerian population. This paper proposes a methodology for working with disease notification forms produced by Algerian officials in the communes mixtes in Arabics (standard and Algerian dialect) and French. While affirming the importance of racialised administrative hierarchies under colonialism, the notification forms offer us a glimpse of vernacular histories of colonial medicine and how ordinary Algerian men and women engaged the colonial state.


Hydrotherapy and Shakespeare on the Atlantic edge: Tralee Spa in 1756

Marc Caball (University College Dublin) & Jason McElligott (Marsh’s Library Dublin)

On Saturday 6 March 1756, Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV was staged in the Assembly Room on Castle Street in the town of Tralee in county Kerry. Far from being a one-off, King Henry IVth heralded the start of a remarkable two-month season of theatrical performances by a group of actors who had travelled from Dublin. There were thirty nights of performances between the opening on Saturday 6 March and the final show on Monday 10 May 1756.Why were Shakespeare’s and other plays being performed in a remote town on the north-western rim of the Atlantic and what might have been the social, cultural and commercial circumstances of their performance? It is proposed that the plays may have been staged as part of a broader effort on the part of the town’s proprietor and local landowner, Sir Thomas Denny, to develop Tralee as a destination for medical tourism and spa sociability.

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Aston Villa 2-1 Bolton Wanderers. Birmingham City 1-2 Leicester City: Why Sick Notes Don't Work
Gareth Milward (University of Southern Denmark)

Following draws in their FA Cup Third Round replays on Saturday 15 January 1949, both Birmingham clubs Aston Villa and Birmingham City had to play a second replay on Monday 17 January 1949. This could cause problems for local doctors. Not because of potential injuries to players or spectators; but because thousands were expected to declare themselves unfit for work and would be asking for a sick note. This paper looks at the various complaints that workers, employers, doctors, and government officials made about medical certification after the Second World War. It had long been established that sick notes were not scientific proof of incapacity. Yet they remained central to the British social security system until 2010. The paper argues that despite their weaknesses - and much to the chagrin of general practitioners - they survived as the least terrible bureaucratic option for all.

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"Soldiers Writing Alcohol in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848."

Deborah Toner (University of Leicester)

Many historians have highlighted that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
accumulating concerns about the impact of alcohol on social order, economic productivity, the
health and morality of the population, and the overall strength of the nation-state often took on
heightened importance in the context of wars, culminating in a global wave of prohibition during the
First World War. But relatively little scholarship has examined how soldiers participating in wars -
and travelling to and through different countries as a result - reflected on and represented their own
drinking behaviours, those of their compatriots, and those of the people and societies they
encountered through war. How soldiers write about alcohol, drinking, and its consequences in their
war letters, diaries and memoirs therefore has great potential to reveal important insights into
ongoing socio-political debates about alcohol in their societies at the time, in addition to a wide
range of issues shaping such debates, including notions of class, gender, and ethnic identity;
patriotism and nationalism; the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and more. This paper
examines the roles of alcohol within soldiers’ war correspondence, diaries and memoirs as a genre
of life writing during the Mexican-American War, 1846-48. The conflict was situated during the peak
of America’s first mass temperance movement and in the midst of a 14-year period where habitual
drunkenness constituted grounds for suspension of citizenship in Mexican constitutional law,
indicating the extent to which alcohol was bound up with major political, social and cultural debates
in both countries at this time.

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Autumn Term 2023


‘He’s after OD’n:’ Using Coroner’s Reports to Map Dublin’s Drug Scene, 1971-83

Oisín Wall (University College Cork)

Content note: death, suicide, drug-use, institutional violence

Abstract: By 1983 Dublin could confidently refer to itself as the ‘heroin capital of Europe.’ 1 However, a decade and a half earlier, at the end of the 1960s, there was no evidence of a ‘hard drug culture’ anywhere in the country. This paper will explore the initial formation of that culture in the early-1970s, and its transformation in the early-1980s. It will probe into who was using drugs, which drugs they used, how and where did they used them, and what their everyday lives were like. Due to the illicit and ephemeral nature of drug scenes, source material about them is often scant and depersonalised. However, coroner’s reports present us with a unique and rich set of insights. As medico-legal reports they provide a wealth of data, from which we can piece together a picture of the emergent hard drug scene. More significantly, however, as reports on the hours and days preceding unexpected deaths, coroners’ files offer us glimpses of everyday lives which were not simply defined by ‘hard drug’ use – from people getting fish and chips in Rialto to smoking cannabis under WB Yeats in Stephen’s Green. This paper will bring together macro- and micro-histories to map out the drug scene and to argue that, rather than being a distinct subculture, it was an ordinary part of everyday life in many parts of Dublin from as early as 1969/70.

Zoom Registration: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ROpNP_U_R8m96d-VESYGaw


The Culture of Maternal Mental Illness: Grete L. Bibring's Studies on the Psychology of Pregnancy in Postwar America.

Udodiri Okwandu (Harvard University)

Abstract: Focusing on the postwar period, this paper explores how investigations into the psychological processes of pregnancy and its relationship to the psychosomatic development of infants and children relied on and reinscribed normative conceptions of the heterosexual, white, upper- and middle- class nuclear family. To do so, this paper examines the work of Grete Lehner Bibring, an Austrian-American psychoanalyst and the first female full professor at Harvard Medical. Beginning in the 1950s, Bibring initiated a series of studies on the psychological aspects of pregnancy at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston in order to understand how the poor psychological health of the mother contributed to the multitude of serious developmental and psychosomatic problems of infancy and early childhood. As a result, her work fit squarely within larger developments in psychology that linked family relations and a child’s mental health with the social stability and progress of the nation. While previous investigations argued that pregnancy simply unveiled underlying mental health pathology, Bibring positioned pregnancy itself as a crisis that affected all expectant mothers, no matter their state of psychic health. While Bibring aimed to transform the nature of care for all expectant mothers, I argue that her conceptualization of what constituted normal pregnancy, family, psyche, and mother-child dynamics were inherently centered on white middle-class subjectivities. This had the effect of rendering non-white families and women either invisible, or inherently problematic. Consequently, the potential developmental or psychosomatic disorders that affected these children were naturalized and implicitly understood as compromising the nation’s prosperity.

Zoom Registration: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_PBPOpmcVQL-Bk2mM8RSO_Q


Methods of Barbarism? – Bacteriological Warfare, Bioterrorism, and the 1920 Sinn Féin Typhoid Plot

Claas Kirchhelle (University College Dublin)

Abstract: On November 18th, 1920, members of the British Parliament listened in dismay as the Secretary of State for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, informed them of a plot to infect the British garrison at Dublin Castle with typhoid and glanders. Revealed just three days before the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, the “Irish ‘Rebel’ Army’s methods of barbarism“ (Daily Telegraph) were condemned by pro-British commentators but were dismissed as a “sheer invention” by Nationalist Parliamentarians – a view that was later repeated in official Irish witness interviews and historical accounts of the War of Independence. This presentation re-examines the events surrounding the so-called Sinn Féin Typhoid Plot. It shows that parts of the Irish independence movement were indeed contemplating biological attacks on British garrisons, traces the origins of these ideas to wartime Germany, and contextualises them within the wider ferment of early 20th century thinking about microbial manipulation, asymmetric warfare, and (il)legitimate violence.

Zoom Registration: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LuSQfvFHR0CcZbp5fulvWA

Contact UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland

School of History, Room J113, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 8185