Take a journey through time to understand how far medicine has come. Learn about extraordinary advances in healthcare throughout history.
Historical Perspectives on Medical Practice
Medicine has a long and storied history, with practices from ancient and traditional cultures being blended into modern-day approaches. Throughout the ages, advances in medical practices have been made both through empirical observation as well as through formalized scientific experimentation. From public health and sanitation to the treatment of mental illness, the history of medicine illustrates how far our understanding of healthcare and its efficacy has come over time.
‘Architecture Of An Asylum’ Profiles St. Elizabeths Hospital, From State Of The Art To Notorious
in 1962, St. Elizabeths Hospital was notorious – a rundown federal facility for the treatment of people with mental illness that was overcrowded and understaffed. Opened with idealism and hope in 1855, the facility had ballooned from 250 patients to as many as 8,000. History of medicine articles.
Susan Stamberg, Health News from NPR 2017
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A Brief History of American Anatomy Riots
New York’s riot of 1788 is the most famous of about two dozen ‘Resurrection Riots’ that took place in the United States between the nation’s founding and the late 19th century. These riots were named for the Resurrection Men, also called the ‘sack-em-up men’ or ‘night doctors’ -professional thieves who dug fresh corpses out of local burying grounds and supplied them to medical schools for dissection lectures.
National Museum of Civil War Medicine blog 2017
A History of Anesthesia
In 1844 Horace Wells, then 29 years old and trying to make it as a dentist, saw a staged show of “Ether Frolics”. After watching a man inhale the gas, trip, and laugh away a painful leg injury, Wells had a realization: the pain-relieving effect might be useful for dental surgery. History of medicine articles.
I Heart Literati 2015
History of medicine books at Century Past
An archive honoring the voices and experiences of disabled people
Buffalo’s Museum of disABILITY History
Erin Blakemore, Washington Post 2018
Inside Philadelphia’s Byberry Mental Hospital House Of Horrors
For decades, Philadelphia’s Byberry mental hospital neglected and tortured its patients — and got away with it. History of medicine articles.
Erin Kelly, All That’s Interesting 2018
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The “Right” and “Wrong” Kind of Addict: Iatrogenic Opioid Addiction in Historical Context
Jonathan Jones, Nursing Clio 2017
The veterans who fought for — and won — government health care
Marking a century of veterans’ health care. History of medicine articles.
Jessica L. Adler, Washington Post 2017
Woman healers of the Seventeenth Century
Leslie Wilson, The History Girls Blog 2016
Women in Nursing during the Civil War
Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the women who served as nurses, both Union and Confederate, throughout the Civil War. Statistics vary, but it is estimated that approximately 3,000 women served as nurses during this turbulent time in American history. History of medicine articles.
Tammy Kiter, New York Historical Society 2016
A Symphony of Second Opinions on Mozart’s Final Illness
“225 years ago, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart drew his last breath. He was only 35. Ever since, generations of doctors have been obsessed with figuring out what caused Mozart’s premature death. At last count, there were more than 136 post-mortem diagnoses in the medical literature. This list is almost guaranteed to expand in the years to come. “
Dr. Howard Markel, PBS Health 2016
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Baths for Medicinal Purposes
People knew bathing was good for hygienic and health reasons by the early 1800s, and many of the old public baths were restored. However, because there was not enough plumbing for household consumption, baths in private homes was still not possible.
Geri Walton, Unique histories from the 18th and 19th centuries 2014
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Bellevue: ‘America’s Most Storied Hospital’ – An Interview with David Oshinsky
Book review. Award-winning historian Professor David Oshinsky explores the complicated history of this venerable public hospital from its humble eighteenth-century beginnings and through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and its recent Ebola patient in his groundbreaking new book Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital (Doubleday).
Robin Lindley, History News Network 2017
Billionaires say they’ll end disease: evolution says otherwise
In late 2016, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged to invest at least $3 billion to ‘cure, manage and prevent all disease’, and other billionaires have made similar pledges. But evolution of organisms won’t cooperate.
Jim Kozubek, Aeon
Black Death spread by humans, vindicating rats
One of the worst pandemics in human history, the Black Death, along with a string of plague outbreaks that occurred during the 14th to 19th centuries, was spread by human fleas and body lice, a new study suggests.
Meera Senthilingam, CNN 2018
Can we predict – and prevent – the next big pandemic?
From severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to AIDS and Ebola, zoonotic diseases cause more than a billion cases of illness each year. As humans increasingly encroach on wildlife territory and increasingly travel long distances in short times, the threat of zoonotic pandemics is growing. At the same time, so are efforts to prevent or curtail them.
Karl Gruber, Ensia 2017
Child Mummy Could Rewrite Smallpox Timeline
The oldest genetic sample of smallpox ever studied could rewrite the timeline for this deadly disease, which ravaged Europe and much of the world beginning in the eighteenth century. Using tissue samples taken from the mummy of a Lithuanian child dating back to the 1600s, an international team of researchers reconstructed the full RNA sequence of the smallpox virus strain that likely killed her.
Nathaniel Scharping, Discover 2016
Common Ailments, Complaints, and Diseases
Ailments, illnesses, and diseases were a mystery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Physicians were often baffled and did not have a clear understanding of microorganisms or how diseases were transmitted.
Geri Walton, Unique histories from the 18th and 19th centuries 2014
Review of The ‘Book That Changed America; How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation’, By Randall Fuller.
Kenyon Gradert, Los Angeles Review of Books 2017
The Eye at War: American Eye Prosthetics During the World Wars
Account of how the American medical establishment responded to shortages of the special glass used in prosthetic eyes by innovating.
Evan P. Sullivan, Nursing Clio 2017
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The Great Plague of 1665: Case Closed?
The presence of Yersinia pestis bacterium in skeletons found in a recently discovered plague pit proves that the Great Plague of 1665 was bubonic. Or does it?
Lara Thorpe, History Today 2016
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The High Cost of Cure
How a hospital bill grows 17 feet long
Michael Crichton, The Atlantic 1970
Health & social care explained: An entry point into the many facets of the health and social care system in the UK
This interactive timeline brings 70 years of reform and change in the National Health Service to life, charting the evolution of this public institution from its inception in the post-war years through to the present day.
Nuffield Trust 2017
How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic
When historians trace back the roots of today’s opioid epidemic, they often find themselves returning to the wave of addiction that swept the U.S. in the late 19th century. That was when physicians first got their hands on morphine.
Jon Kelvey, Smithsonian 2018
How horses helped cure diphtheria
Mallory Warner, National Museum of American History 2013
How Medieval Medicine is Helping us Today
Gemma Hollman, Just History Posts
How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Revolutionized Public Health
Mass death changed how we think about illness, and government’s role in treating it
Laura Spinney, Smithsonian 2017
Disease & the Seven Years’ War – Podcast
We explore a very different aspect of the French and Indian or Seven Years’ War. We explore the war through the lens of disease and medicine and how disease prompted the British government to take steps to keep its soldiers healthy.
Erica Charters, Ben Franklin’s World, Episode 116
Mental Health and American Society – Podcast
On this episode of History Talk, hosts Jessica Vinas-Nelson and Brenna Miller speak with two experts, Dr. Susan Lawrence and Zeb Larson, to discuss the history of mental health in the U.S. and the realities of providing meaningful care.
Dr. Susan Lawrence and Zeb Larson, Origins
Peter White draws on the latest research to reveal the lives of physically disabled people in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this second episode – the search for Miracle Cures.
Disability: A New History, BBC Radio 4 2018, Episode 2 of 10
More Doctors Smoke Camels – Cigarrette ads in Medical Journals
From the 1930s into the 1950s, medical journals ran advertisements for cigarettes. Around the same time, advertising agencies created campaigns featuring physicians; these continued until 1954, as concerns about the negative health effects of smoking grew. Heavily illustrated.
Johanna Goldberg, Books, Health & History 2014
Novel Antibiotic Recipes Could Be Hidden in Medieval Medical Texts
Erin Connelly, Discover 2017
Nye Bevan’s dream: a history of the NHS
In 1948 the health minister strode into a Manchester hospital to launch a free healthcare service that has brought innovation and controversy ever since
Denis Campbell, The Guardian 2016
Old Names, Provincial Terms, and Synonyms for Illnesses and Diseases
If you have wondered about the strange names given to diseases or illnesses, the following post provides a list of old names, provincial terms, and synonyms that were used for illness and diseases with today’s equivalent
Geri Walton, GeriWalton.com 2014
Old Works of Art Are Helping Med Students Learn How to Diagnose
Artists have long been fascinated by illness, rendering everything from syphilis to arthritis to tuberculosis in careful brush strokes. The diseases depicted, frozen on the canvas, have in turn created a type of diagnostic mystery for modern day physicians.
Olga Oksman, Vice 2017
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People with Disabilities in Jane Austen’s England
Jane Austen did not write about disabled people in any of her books, but people with disabilities were just as common in Regency England as they are today. Whether the disability was physical or cognitive, people back then wanted to care for their loved ones who needed extra assistance or intensive support, just as we do now. How did they do it?
Elaine Owen, Every Woman Dreams 2017
Polio’s political fight in a historical perspective
Dora Vargha, The Reluctant Internationalists 2014
Penicillin – Podcast
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
In our Time, BBC Radio 4 2016
Review of ‘Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine’
J. N. Campbell, Reviews in History 2017
Review of ‘Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest US Minority Its Rights’
Audra Jennings, H-Net Reviews 2017
Review of ‘Smoking Privileges: Psychiatry, the Mentally Ill, and the Tobacco Industry in America’
‘Smoking Privileges’ interweaves the history of psychiatric institutions in the United States with the history of the medical community’s perception of tobacco.
M. Lynn Rose, H-Net Reviews 2017
Sigmund Freud’s Sortie To America
The Father of Psychoanalysis came, saw, conquered—and didn’t like it much
Ronald W. Clark, American Heritage, 1980
Solving the Mystery of an Ancient Roman Plague
Church records from the third century could help identify the disease that nearly killed the empire.
Kyle Harper, The Atlantic 2017
Spanish Flu: The Deadliest Pandemic in History
In the spring of 1918 people started to fall ill with flu. The initial wave of the illness was not too different to a standard flu epidemic but later that year in August 1918 a second wave hit. This time large numbers of soldiers were beginning to fall ill with a much nastier version of the flu.
Past Medical History 2016
Why Did the 1918 Flu Kill So Many Otherwise Healthy Young Adults?
Uncovering a World War I veteran’s story provided a genealogist and pharmacologist with some clues