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Seminar Series, 2022-23

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

Spring 2023


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 livestreamed via zoom (registration links below). 

02.02.2023 Matthew Smith (University of Strathclyde):

The First Resort: Exploring Social Psychiatry, Preventive Mental Health and Universal Basic Income

Zoom registration here: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_4YiM0AWZTCCpoDesZkjL8w

In this presentation I explore the rise and fall of social psychiatry in the United States during the middle of the twentieth century.  Social psychiatry was an interdisciplinary approach to mental health that combined the insights of both social scientists and psychiatrists to understand the environmental causes of mental illness.  A series of social psychiatry research projects associated poverty, inequality, community disintegration and social isolation with poor mental health.  As ‘a preventive psychiatry’, the ultimate goal of many social psychiatrists was to derive policy recommendations that would result in better mental health.  But while social psychiatry research facilitated psychiatric deinstitutionalisation and the emergence of community mental health, its preventive ambitions were never realised.  Here, I argue that introducing universal basic income could be a way to address the factors that social psychiatrists identified as being detrimental mental health.

02.03.2023 Janet Weston (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine): 

Morality and 20th century UK public health legislation: privacy, paternalism, and politics

Zoom registration here: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_mdEpVaiURzi9g8JDRXH6-w

Public health measures, designed to protect or improve the health of populations, are often delivered through legislation. In the UK, as in many other places, the 20th century saw a raft of laws that attempted to address the prevalence of disease and the safety of living and working environments, amongst other health-related issues. In this seminar, I will show that close attention to these public health laws and the debates that surround them can reveal a great deal about the morality of the field of public health: the assumptions and beliefs about which and whose health problems matter, where responsibility lies, and what an acceptable solution might look like. I will focus on two case studies: early twentieth century laws making specific conditions ‘notifiable’ to central authorities for the purposes of data collection, monitoring, and service provision; and late twentieth century laws tackling deaths and injuries on the roads. This vantage point highlights shifting anxieties and ideas about individual privacy and state paternalism, and the political content and quality of these concerns. It also reveals the sometimes-surprising presence, and absence, of attention to the morals and ethics of public health law.

30.03.2023 Susannah Riordan (University College Dublin): 

‘Mad dogs and Cavanmen: The politics of treating hydrophobia in late-nineteenth-century Ireland’.

Zoom registration here: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_m0PmQYYrT0uSm6H8KlD0Aw

In 1885 Louis Pasteur began inoculating people who had been bitten by rabid mammals as a means of protecting them from developing the disease. The first Irish patients were treated in the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1887 and these ranged from Hayes St Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile, to those sent at the expense of the ratepayer under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1862. The practice of sending these patients to Paris was sometimes controversial, not alone because of the hardships and expense of the journey but because Pasteur was sometimes unsuccessful (Lord Doneraile died after his treatment) and was seen by some as a charlatan. On the other hand, there was a tenant farmer named Phil McGovern in Co. Cavan who was known to have the cure for hydrophobia. He was not only closer and cheaper, but his treatment never failed and – unlike Pasteur – could treat sufferers after symptoms had appeared. During the hydrophobia epidemic of the 1880s, both folk and patent remedies were widely advertised throughout the United Kingdom. However, this one was unique. Local and national politicians, clergy of all denominations, and even medical professionals claimed that the McGovern cure was scientifically verifiable and should be investigated by government. Meanwhile, the expansion of rail into Cavan and a cultivated relationship with the press provided Phil McGovern with a thriving business and, ultimately, a political career of his own. His story, played out on the boundaries of traditional and modern Ireland, offers an unusual insight into the politics of Poor Law medical treatment.

20.04.2023 Mathieu Bokestael (University College Dublin): 

What is a Caring Historiography? Lessons from Sarah Moss’ Night Waking (2011)

Zoom registration here: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_RZka5w9nQP-6QcZNRNmd4w

Through a close reading of Sarah Moss’ Night Waking (2011), this seminar tentatively explores the hermeneutic potential of a care-political approach for literary studies and historiography. Set on a fictional Hebridean island, the novel tells the story of Anna. A historian, Anna is struggling to write her monograph amidst parental care responsibilities and slowly starts uncovering the island’s history of neonatal mortality. A close reading of the novel reveals how the intersectional distribution of parental care irresponsibilities in Anna’s household mirrors similar unequal relationships of privileged irresponsibility in medicine and landlordism, both during the British internal colonial project and today. Moss’ novel, then, highlights how the represented communities fall short of a democratic politics of care on different levels: parental-interpersonal, medical-institutional, and colonial-international. How Anna is supposed to write her monograph is therefore not only a pragmatic question of finding ‘a room of her own’ when faced with her husband’s privileged irresponsibility as the blurb on the back of the book puts it. It is also the question of how a caring historiography, one that does not fall into the trap of multiscalar irresponsibility which Anna sees all around her, can be practised. The paper will explore how well Anna succeeds in this endeavour. 

Autumn 2022

29.09.2022 - Judy Bolger (Trinity College Dublin): “A curious absence’: Tracing maternal deaths in Irish workhouses at the turn of the twentieth century" 

The history of Irish maternity services has focused largely on the nascent period of the early and mid-twentieth-century when the health of parturition women warranted attention from State officials and the subsequent improvement in maternal mortality rates. However, little scholarly attention has focused on such topics in the preceding decades when the facilities of maternal care were less cohesive and assessible. In the final years of the Poor Law in Ireland, the workhouse facilitated an ad-hoc form of maternal care which impoverished women utilised during childbirth. This paper examines the rate of maternal death within these Poor Law establishments focusing on the use of nosology within cause-of-death classification and through the use of maternal death case-studies to ascertain the role of the workhouse in poor women’s reproductive health. This research is constructed and framed through a broader analysis of large data extracted from the annual reports of the ‘Local Board of Governments’ and ‘Registrar General of Marriage, Birth and Death’, and supplemented with a micro-history assessment of maternal mortality from individual workhouse records and birth and death certifications. While the classification of maternal death was often misused or conflated, this paper addresses the direct evidence of death by ‘childbirth’ to determine if impoverished women were afforded with adequate maternal care services within the workhouses.

Register: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_z4KqVjtxRTmwL9wMqC9YjQ

20.10.2022 - Miriam Lipton (Oregon State University): "An Alternative to Antibiotics: Soviet Bacteriophage Therapy and its Role in Cold War Politics" 

During WWII, the Allies had a secret weapon, one that helped save more lives than anything else. That weapon was penicillin--first discovered in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming, and then later mass produced on an industrial scale by the Americans at the start of the war. Penicillin’s obvious utility and efficacy propelled the entire world onto the path of antibiotic dominance that continues into the present. Well, almost the entire world. While the Soviets were part of the Allied Powers during WWII and had access to penicillin, by war’s end they had virtually abandoned antibiotic research and instead focused on an alternative therapy, that of bacteriophages, a bacterial eating virus. In this talk I will discuss why the Soviets chose to focus on bacteriophages over antibiotics, and what bacteriophage research looked like in the first few decades following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.

Register: (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-z5wB4ipQR-KWbObjyGsNw

17.11.2022 - Maziyar Ghiabi (University of Exeter): "Decolonising drugs history? Lessons from the Islamicate lifeworld of intoxication”

The aim of this paper is to provide a conceptual approach to writing decolonial drug histories and, at the same time, to attempt moving beyond decolonisation itself.  Firstly, it invites to rethink the names and words we use in writing drug histories, making a case for an alternative (decolonial) philology. Secondly, the paper reclaims the historical centrality of the ‘everyday’ as a site and time to understand the histories of ‘drugs’ and alcohol in the Islamicate (and colonial) world. Thirdly, the paper unearths a historical and epistemic figure of intoxication from 13th century Iran, known as the rend as bearing the potential to move beyond contemporary West-centric scripts while also being a paradigm beyond decolonisation. By going beyond ‘decolonisation’ this paper refers to the urgency to not comfortably seat upon decolonial critique as moral indignation towards the past, but to show that drug histories subsume radically different epistemologies and ontologies from those enunciated by coloniality/modernity. The paper presents data from early modern to contemporary sources.

Register (opens in a new window)https://ucd-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_GAmgbcScQRGnsxo3Vi7ThA



Titles of talks to be announced


02.02.2023 - Matt Smith (Strathclyde)

02.03.2023 - Janet Weston (LSHTM)

23.03.2023 - Mathilde Gallay (EHESS)

13.04.2023 - Mathieu Bokestal (UCD)

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