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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75.1 (2001) 174-175
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Nurturing Children: A History of Pediatrics
A. R. Colón, with P. A. Colón. Nurturing Children: A History of Pediatrics. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. xvi + 329 pp. Ill. $69.50.
Since pediatrics is a modern specialty, dating at best from the mid- or late nineteenth century, writing its history from earliest times poses problems: how can one choose and organize the antecedents of medicine for children as it is practiced today in wealthy countries, when in the past there were no hospitals, physicians, or theories of disease specifically intended for the young? Dr. Colón has discussed this difficulty and resolved it by extending the concept of "pediatrics" to child care in general. He begins with an analysis of prehistoric anatomical remains pertaining to childhood, and then discusses an impressively wide-ranging anthology of texts dating from the Sumerian and early Semitic and Egyptian civilizations, and also those of ancient India, China, and Japan. Classical, medieval, Renaissance, eighteenth-century, and nineteenth-century pediatrics are then each allocated a chapter. The book ends with a brief but comprehensive survey of twentieth-century discoveries and developments. To assist understanding, each chapter is headed by a list of contemporaneous events considered relevant, numerous tables have been created (they are most prolific in the final chapter), illustrations are plentiful, and a glossary of medical terms is appended.
Colón discusses the lives and works of former "pediatricians" in an update of the style employed by John Ruhräh in 1925 and by George Frederic Still in 1931. 1 An extensive bibliography is indicative of the primary and secondary resources, mainly but not entirely in English, mined by the author to produce this anthology. Anticipating readers from diverse backgrounds, Colón has provided not only medical interpretations of the chosen texts, but also historical, social, geographic, and even botanical information, when deemed relevant. For example, he states that "frankincense and myrrh are aromatic conifer products, resins collected from scattered, uncultivated trees that grow in Somalia and the Arabian peninsula. They have been used for millennia to treat a wide array of ailments" (p. 17). He also introduces intriguing diversions such as an entertaining poem on infant feeding (suspected to have been penned by John Ruhräh) that gently mocks the varied fashions of testing milk, and of hand-feeding babies, employed over the ages (pp. 225-26).
Modern medical interpretations of past disease descriptions and treatments are ubiquitous in this volume. Occasionally this leads to a loss of historical perspective, as with the comment that for "all his insights, Glisson remained ignorant of the nutritional deficiency of vitamin D that caused the common form of rickets" (p. 124). Also (and perhaps unavoidably, considering the scope of this anthology) the odd mistake has crept in. Thus, on p. 162 it would appear that William Cadogan wrote An Essay upon Nursing and the Management of Children for the governors of the Bristol Foundling Hospital, rather than for those of the [End Page 174] London Foundling Hospital. Nevertheless, most readers, and physicians in particular, will be stimulated and intrigued by the technical information lavishly provided by Colón. They will also appreciate the organization of this book, making it possible for an extensive and varied selection of material to be condensed into approximately three hundred pages.
Apart from being most readable, and valuable for reference, this work should be useful for teaching purposes since it illustrates and locates such a variety of source material. Not only medical students but also those from other disciplines, including the social sciences, will find here analyses and samples of pediatric writings that will inspire them to further research. The Colóns are to be congratulated for tackling such a diffuse topic and thus making a general history of pediatrics once again available.
1. John Ruhräh, Pediatrics of the Past (New York: Paul Hoeber, 1925); George Frederic Still, The History of Pediatrics (London: Oxford University Press, 1931).