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The Upstate New York Colloquium for the History of Science and Medicine (UNYCHSM) is an informal and occasional gathering of scholars in these fields. Anyone with a serious scholarly interest in the history of medicine or science is welcome to attend. Please contact Gwen Kay <> about joining the group.

Next Meetings

Meetings are on selected Fridays at noon in the Doust Board Room, 9th Floor, Weiskotten Hall, SUNY Upstate Medical University. Lunch is first, then the program begins around 1:00 p.m. There is an inexpensive cafeteria adjacent to the Doust Board Room.

On March 3, 2006, Jonathon Erlen, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh will give a talk and slide show on "Human Experimentation in 20th-Century American Medicine: Myths and Realities." This presentation is co-sponsored by UNYCHSM and the Library and is the Eleventh Health Sciences Library Lecture.

On April 28, 2006, Sherrie Lyons will discuss her work in progress.

Directions and a map can be found online at <> and <>. Future meetings will be held at Upstate Medical University because of its central location.

Brief History of UNYCHSM

Gwen Kay, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Oswego, perceived a need for farflung scholars in Upstate New York, i.e., between Troy and Buffalo and generally "north of the Thruway" but also including schools such as Colgate, SUNY Geneseo, and Hamilton, to exchange ideas regularly about their research and thus provide the level of mutual intellectual support that is automatic in larger environments such as New York City. At the 2002 meeting of the History of Science Society, she proposed creating a regional "network, forum or other way for people interested in the history or philosophy of science, medicine and/or technology to occasionally meet and discuss works in progress, etc." Her idea was instantly accepted, and in the fall of 2002 she began planning what she called her "cabal."

The inaugural meeting of UNYCHSM occurred on Friday afternoon, February 28, 2003, in Syracuse at SUNY Upstate Medical University, in a conference room in the Library. Eric v.d. Luft, Ph.D., M.L.S., Curator of Historical Collections at Upstate, handled the local arrangements. Besides Gwen and Eric, those in attendance were James J. Bono, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at SUNY Buffalo; Charlotte Borst, Ph.D., Dean of Arts and Sciences at Union College; Theodore Brown, Ph.D., Professor of History, of Social and Behavioral Medicine, and of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester; Robert W. Daly, M.D., Professor of Bioethics and Humanities and of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University; independent scholar Sherrie L. Lyons, Ph.D., author of Thomas Henry Huxley: The Evolution of a Scientist; and Johanna Moyer, Ph.D, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Oswego.

The main event was Jo Moyer's report on her work in progress, investigating the French 16th- and 17th-century medical community's perceptions of the causes of infertility. Generally these physicians blamed a couple's inability to have children on the woman's character, behavior, diet, menstrual problems, or environment, and acknowledged male infertility only in cases of battle injuries, undersized genitalia, spleen deformity, or other mechanical difficulties. Franciscus de Le Böe (1614-1672), known as "Sylvius," believed that two fertile people could be an infertile couple if their humors or temperaments were incompatible. These theories were consonant with the typical goal of physicians of that time to achieve Aristotelian balance within a Galenic system of medicine. Jo's report sparked a lively discussion and she received many excellent suggestions for further research in this area.

The Second Meeting

Friday, May 16, 2003, in the Doust Board Room, Weiskotten Hall, SUNY Upstate Medical University, we enjoyed lunch at noon then discussed Johanne Harrigan's master's thesis in progress, "Defining the Role of the State in American Medicine: Progressivism and the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921," examining the conflict between the American Medical Association and the Children's Bureau in the context of the demise of the Progressive Movement in American politics and evaluating the transition of the AMA around 1920 from a progressive to a conservative organization. Besides Johanne, other participants were Dorinda Outram, Ph.D, Professor of History at the University of Rochester; Margaret M. Braungart, Ph.D., Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University; Gwen Kay, Johanne's thesis advisor; Bob Daly, who handled local arrangements; Jo Moyer; Eric Luft; and Ted Brown.

The Third Meeting

Friday, October 3, 2003, again in the Doust Board Room, twelve people discussed Eric Luft's paper, "The Intellectual Context of Benjamin Smith Barton's Elements of Botany (1803)," which presented nosological theory and Linnaean classification theory as forming the Zeitgeist for Barton's work and putting him at odds with his colleague, Benjamin Rush. This was a new area of research for Eric, who departed from his primary area of expertise, the nineteenth century, to delve headlong into the medical philosophies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Several members of the group, who had already published on aspects of botany, iatromechanism, and other topics relevant to the paper, offered him much constructive, learned, and insightful criticism, for which he is very thankful.

The Fourth Meeting

Friday, March 5, 2004, in the Doust Board Room, Dorinda Outram led eight people in a discussion of "The Eighteenth Century Medical Revolution: Bodies, Souls, and the Social Classes," Chapter 4 of her book, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class and Political Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). Issues included causality in history, the relation between peasant and middle-class body images, methods of execution, health and hygiene, and the agenda of "medical police."

The Fifth Meeting

Friday, May 7, 2004, in the Doust Board Room, Christopher Henke, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colgate University, spoke about his book in progress, Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: Science and Industry in California Agriculture. Based on several years of ethnographic research with a group of agricultural scientists working for the University of California, the book explores how science and the State's farm industry cooperate -- and conflict -- on how to best grow crops. Using historical and contemporary cases, the book treats state-sponsored agricultural science as an institution of "repair," aiding California's farm industry with crises as diverse as labor shortages, plagues of insects, and environmental regulations.

The Sixth Meeting

The first meeting of the 2004-2005 academic year, on October 15, 2004, featured Sherrie Lyons leading a spirited discussion of "Swimming at the Edge of Scientific Respectability: Sea Serpents as a Genuine Relic From the Past," the introductory chapter of her forthcoming book, Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls: Science at the Margins in the Victorian Age. The conversation touched on professionalism in science, delineations between "good" and "bad" science, and other issues that arose in the 19th century but still persist. Participants included Nancy G. Slack, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at the Sage Colleges; Harold L. Burstyn, Ph.D., historian of science, patent attorney, oceanographer, and polymath; Bob Daly, Gwen Kay, and Eric Luft. We were especially pleased to welcome our newest members, Timothy J. Madigan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philosophy at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, and Rebecca E. Garden, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at Upstate Medical University.

The Seventh Meeting

The December 17, 2004, meeting featured Theodore ("Ted") M. Brown, Ph.D., Professor of History, of Social and Behavioral Medicine, and of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester, who presented "The World Health Organization and the Transition from 'International' to 'Global' Public Health," a paper that he co-authored with Marcos Cueto of the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, and Elizabeth Fee of the National Library of Medicine. The discussion made reference to Brown's frequently cited article, "The College of Physicians and the Acceptance of Iatromechanism in England, 1665-1695," which appeared in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine 44, 1 (January-February 1970): 12-30; examined from a Kuhnian standpoint the internalist ("idea-driven") vs. externalist (driven by political and social forces) ways of explaining historical changes in science and medicine; and debated the semantics of the words 'global' and 'international' as they pertain to the development and policies of the World Health Organization.

The Eighth and Ninth Meetings

On February 11, 2005, Upstate Medical University Professor of Bioethics and Humanities Margaret M. Braungart, Ph.D. <>, spoke on "Dimensions of Generational Medicine." On May 13, 2005, Gwen Kay led a roundtable discussion about the practicalities and strategies of writing local medical history.

The Tenth and Eleventh Meetings

On October 7, 2005, our speaker was Dorinda Outram, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester, who spoke on "The ADD Diagnosis and Enlightenment Teaching." On December 2, 2005, discussed her work in progress on the history of the Onondaga County Medical Society.

Questions about this site? Please e-mail the Webmaster, Eric Luft <>.

Last update: 6 February 2006.