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There was a time when birth was treated as a natural process rather than a medical condition. Before 1800, women gave birth seated in birth chairs or on stools and were helped along by midwives. Then societal changes in attitudes toward women and the practice of medicine made birthing a province of the male-dominated medical profession.
In Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine, Amanda Carson Banks examines the history of the birth chair and tells how this birthing device changed over time. Through photographs, artists' renditions of births, interviews, and texts from midwives and early obstetricians, she creates an evolutionary picture of birthing practices and highlights the radical redefinition of birth that has occurred in the last two centuries.
During the 1800s the change from a natural philosophy of birth to a medical one was partly a result of heightened understandings of anatomy and physiology. The medical profession was growing, and with it grew the awareness of the economic rewards of making delivery a specialized practice. In the background of the medical profession's rise was the prevailing perception of women as fragile invalids. Gradually, midwives and birth chairs were relegated to rural and isolated settings.
The popularity of birth chairs has seen a revival in the late twentieth century as the struggle between medical obstetrics and the alternative birth movement has grown. As Banks shows through her careful examination of the chairs themselves, these questions have been answered and reconsidered many times in human history. Using the artifacts from the home and medical office, Banks traces sweeping societal changes in the philosophy of how to bring life into the world.
A Comparative Study
Throughout the fourteenth century AD/eighth century H, waves of plague swept out of Central Asia and decimated populations from China to Iceland. So devastating was the Black Death across the Old World that some historians have compared its effects to those of a nuclear holocaust. As countries began to recover from the plague during the following century, sharp contrasts arose between the East, where societies slumped into long-term economic and social decline, and the West, where technological and social innovation set the stage for Europe’s dominance into the twentieth century. Why were there such opposite outcomes from the same catastrophic event? In contrast to previous studies that have looked to differences between Islam and Christianity for the solution to the puzzle, this pioneering work proposes that a country’s system of landholding primarily determined how successfully it recovered from the calamity of the Black Death. Stuart Borsch compares the specific cases of Egypt and England, countries whose economies were based in agriculture and whose pre-plague levels of total and agrarian gross domestic product were roughly equivalent. Undertaking a thorough analysis of medieval economic data, he cogently explains why Egypt’s centralized and urban landholding system was unable to adapt to massive depopulation, while England’s localized and rural landholding system had fully recovered by the year 1500.
Hemophilia and the Unintended Consequences of Medical Progress
By the 1970s, a therapeutic revolution, decades in the making, had transformed hemophilia from an obscure hereditary malady into a manageable bleeding disorder. Yet the glory of this achievement was short lived. The same treatments that delivered some normalcy to the lives of persons with hemophilia brought unexpectedly fatal results in the 1980s when people with the disease contracted HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis C in staggering numbers. The Bleeding Disease recounts the promising and perilous history of American medical and social efforts to manage hemophilia in the twentieth century. This is both a success story and a cautionary tale, one built on the emergence in the 1950s and 1960s of an advocacy movement that sought normalcy—rather than social isolation and hyper-protectiveness—for the boys and men who suffered from the severest form of the disease. Stephen Pemberton evokes the allure of normalcy as well as the human costs of medical and technological progress in efforts to manage hemophilia. He explains how physicians, advocacy groups, the blood industry, and the government joined patients and families in their unrelenting pursuit of normalcy—and the devastating, unintended consequences that pursuit entailed. Ironically, transforming the hope of a normal life into a purchasable commodity for people with bleeding disorders made it all too easy to ignore the potential dangers of delivering greater health and autonomy to hemophilic boys and men.
An American History of Intersex
What does it mean to be human? To be human is, in part, to be physically sexed and culturally gendered. Yet not all bodies are clearly male or female. Bodies in Doubt traces the changing definitions, perceptions, and medical management of intersex (atypical sex development) in America from the colonial period to the present day. From the beginning, intersex bodies have been marked as "other," as monstrous, sinister, threatening, inferior, and unfortunate. Some nineteenth-century doctors viewed their intersex patients with disrespect and suspicion. Later, doctors showed more empathy for their patients' plights and tried to make correct decisions regarding their care. Yet definitions of "correct" in matters of intersex were entangled with shifting ideas and tensions about what was natural and normal, indeed about what constituted personhood or humanity. Reis has examined hundreds of cases of “hermaphroditism” and intersex found in medical and popular literature and argues that medical practice cannot be understood outside of the broader cultural context in which it is embedded. As the history of responses to intersex bodies has shown, doctors are influenced by social concerns about marriage and heterosexuality. Bodies in Doubt considers how Americans have interpreted and handled ambiguous bodies, how the criteria and the authority for judging bodies changed, how both the binary gender ideal and the anxiety over uncertainty persisted, and how the process for defining the very norms of sex and gender evolved. Bodies in Doubt breaks new ground in examining the historical roots of modern attitudes about intersex in the United States and will interest scholars and researchers in disability studies, social history, gender studies, and the history of medicine.
The Medicalization of Reproduction in Greece
The author, a second-generation Greek American, returned to Greece with her young daughter to do fieldwork over the course of a decade. Focusing on Rhodes, an island that blends continuity with the past and rapid social change in often unexpected ways, she interviewed over a hundred women, doctors, and midwives about issues of reproduction. The result is a detailed portrait of how a longstanding system of “local” gynecological and obstetrical knowledge under the control of women was rapidly displaced in the period following World War II, and how the technologically-intensive biomedical model that took its place in turn assumed its own distinctive signature. Bodies of Knowledge is a vivid ethnographic study of how a presumably globalizing and homogenizing process like medicalization can be reshaped as women and medical experts alike selectively accept or reject new practices and technologies. Georges found, for example, that women in Rhodes have enthusiastically embraced some new technologies, like fetal imaging during pregnancy, but rejected others, like medical contraception. They are also avid consumers of popular childbirth manuals. This book is the recipient of the 2006 Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Prize for the best project in the area of medicine.
The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States
Most closely associated today with the Nazis and World War II atrocities, eugenics is sometimes described as a government-orchestrated breeding program, other times as a pseudo-science, and often as the first step leading to genocide. Less frequently is it depicted as a movement having links to the United States. But eugenics does have a history in this country, and Mark Largent tells that story by exploring one of the most disturbing aspects, the compulsory asterilization of more than 64,000 Americans.
Mass Media and Family Planning
The Tangled History of Cardiac Care
Still the leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease challenges researchers, clinicians, and patients alike. Each day, thousands of patients and their doctors make decisions about coronary angioplasty and bypass surgery. In Broken Hearts David S. Jones sheds light on the nature and quality of those decisions. He describes the debates over what causes heart attacks and the efforts to understand such unforeseen complications of cardiac surgery as depression, mental fog, and stroke. Why do doctors and patients overestimate the effectiveness and underestimate the dangers of medical interventions, especially when doing so may lead to the overuse of medical therapies? To answer this question, Jones explores the history of cardiology and cardiac surgery in the United States and probes the ambiguities and inconsistencies in medical decision making. Based on extensive reviews of medical literature and archives, this historical perspective on medical decision making and risk highlights personal, professional, and community outcomes.
Vol. 70 (1996) through current issue
The leading journal in its field for more than three quarters of a century, the Bulletin is the official publication of the American Association for the History of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine. Each issue spans the social, cultural, and scientific aspects of the history of medicine worldwide and includes reviews of recent books on medical history.
Epidemics and Human Response in Western History, Revised Edition
In this updated edition of The Burdens of Disease, with revisions and additions to the original content, including the evolution of drug-resistant diseases and expanded coverage of HIV/AIDS, along with recent data on mortality figures and other relevant statistics, J. N. Hays chronicles perceptions and responses to plague and pestilence over two thousand years of western history. Disease is framed as a multidimensional construct, situated at the intersection of history, politics, culture, and medicine, and rooted in mentalities and social relations as much as in biological conditions of pathology.