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Teaching History of Medicine with Artifacts and Oral Histories

The next issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine contains a new section on pedagogy.  This inaugural section contains two articles, one on teaching medical history with artifacts (by Dominique Tobbell) and the other on teaching medical history using oral histories (by Lois Hendrickson).  In addition to the print articles, Professors Tobbell and Hendrickson are publishing on this blog three student papers that illustrate more concretely the kinds of work students produce in their courses.  These papers will be published as separate blog posts in the first week of April.

What follows is a preview of the articles you can read in the Bulletin later this week, as well as the student papers that will be posted on this blog.

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Sphygmomanometer from Wangenstein Historical Library, University of Minnesota.

Students are fascinated with the opportunity to touch history – to use artifacts, skim historical newspapers and archival documents, and listen to first-hand accounts of lived history as presented in oral history interviews.  They glean skills and significantly different perspectives from interacting directly with these primary sources. In their article discussing pedagogical approaches to teaching with archival documents, artifacts and oral history, Dominique Tobbell and Lois Hendrickson outline their methodology and student outcomes in two undergraduate courses in which they collaborated. In the first course, students examine a historical medical artifact from the Wangensteen Historical Library, and situate its impact or change on health care practice, health care institutions, patients, consumers, and health care policy. The second course asks students to use oral histories to understand and reflect on roles that women have played as healers, patients, research subjects, and health activists in U.S. society. Their companion essays examine how they bring resources into the classroom and develop exercises enabling students to work with and analyze various artifacts, texts, and manuscripts, and oral histories.

Three student research papers from the Technology and Medicine in Modern America course provide examples of how these students used historical artifacts and integrated course reading, lectures, and original research, to write about how technology came to medicine’s center-stage, and the impact that medical technologies had on medical practice, medical institutions, and medical consumers. The first essay by Haylie Helms, discusses the impact sphygmomanometers had on clinical diagnosis, its introduction to practice, and the evolution of the user that came with an increase in demand for sphygmomanometery. In a second essay, Maria Nulls details the demise of a technology, the Triangular Bandage. She follows its transformation from a technology used by trained medical practitioners, to a simplified and condensed consumer product, meant for civilian use as seen in Johnson & Johnson’s ‘First-Aid’ Kits.  The final essay, by Matthew Cohen, argues that the implementation of electrocardiograms (ECG) changed the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of diphtheria. Cohen’s paper attributes this to a shift in the increased significance of objective information created by medical technological, and details how this medical technology redefined diagnosis of infectious diseases as well as cardiac diseases.

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ECG from Wangenstein Historical Library, University of Minnesota.


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