MedHum Mondays: Blogs you should be following

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to MedHum Mondays on the Daily Dose! Today will be the third installment of our blog promotion; starting next week we will expand to include new books in medical humanities and other news and updates. Have something you would like to see featured here? Let us know!


imagesChirurgeon’s Apprentice

Surgeons are amongst the highest paid professionals in the medical world today. They are the ‘miracle-workers’ of the 21st century, capable of saving and transforming the lives of their patients.

Nevertheless, the place of the surgeon amongst today’s medical elite was not always guaranteed. At the beginning of the 17th century, ‘chirurgeons’ [surgeons] were closely related to barbers and other craftsmen who learned their trade through apprenticeships. After the Restoration, however, chirurgeons broke from their medieval role and began participating in important medical debates. Their advocacy of ‘practical’ medicine and experimentation distinguished them from their university-educated counterparts, the physicians, and helped elevate their role in the medical marketplace.

This website, developed by the talented Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, is dedicated to a study of early modern chirurgeons, and all the blood and gore that comes with it.

tumblr_inline_mpq0l8QU4J1qz4rgpGeorgian London

Okay, so it may seem a stretch to include a blog on the history if the 18th century as medical Humanities…but as with the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, this blog features the story of the past and all its (occasionally frightening) intersections with medicine. I myself am a historian of the 18th century, and one of the things I enjoy about this period is its freedom from categorical boundaries. Everything is everything in the era before distinct professionalization of science and medicine, a time when philosophy and literature were not yet estranged from the sciences.

Developed by Lucy Inglis (also the author of a book by the same title) this blog is the largest body of study on eighteenth century London freely available online.  It’s ‘award-winning’ – in January 2010 it won an unprecedented two Cliopatrias in the US History News Network’s Awards and is used as a secondary source by students from institutions such as King’s College London, University College London and Christie’s.  It has featured in The Times, the Guardian and Time Out.

cropped-author-photo2The Not So Innocents Abroad

This blog is dedicated to “Historical Ramblings on Sex, Food, and Other Bodily Pleasures, in Paris, Capri, and Beyond.” Like the two above, its focus is largely historical, but nothing proves a better mirror for the present than the (sometimes saucy) past. Rachel Hope Cleves is a history professor at the University of Victoria, and she brings the past to life with clarity and relevance. Here is a recent post (that appeared also on Nursing Clio) about the history of same-sex marriage.

The Daily Dose Presents: Medicine’s Dark Secrets!

DailyDose2Welcome once again to the Daily Dose, where we honor, support, and share perspectives about medicine and humanities across cultures and disciplines. Today, I ask you to join us for a dark journey!
Imagine, if you will, a low stone slab. Upon it, dimly lit and
un-preserved, is a three-day-old corpse going slowing rancid in
warm the summer night. This, young surgeon, is your textbook. If you are lucky. For many a medical student, the remains were less fresh, less available (and occasionally less human) than the one I have described. In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius–the father
of anatomy–had to steal half-rotten bodies from the gibbet after hanging. Not what you expect, perhaps, of the profession that has since risen to be one of the most well-respected and well-paid in medicine; long years were spent in the dark before surgeons (and surgery) entered the light. What happened in this shadowy period is the subject of myth, mystery, mayhem and history–and all of it is rendered in fascinating detail by a new documentary project: Medicine’s Dark Secrets, brought to you by the indefatigable Chirurgeon’s Apprentice: Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. You will remember Lindsey from an early interview with the Dose; she is a medical historian who completed her doctorate at Oxford University with a specialty in the history of seventeenth-century alchemical pharmacopeia.

mds14Her interests are broad and boundary-crossing–and her work renders medical history and medical artifacts accessible to an equally broad audience. She was recently
interviewed by Christian Josi of the Huffington Post about her project goals and her role as a “Deathxpert” (a happy company of scholars, if I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along the way, she illuminates the strange and sometimes terrifying world of the surgeon-in-training (and the patient-in-waiting!) I have been following the blog for a long while, and I am never disappointed… In fact, the only thing missing was a way to bring her wonderful story-telling to life on screen.

Well. Problem solved! Recently, the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has migrated to a new medium, and this is merely a taste of what is to come:

It is, I’m sure you’ll agree, an incredibly worthy endeavor. But, to quote from the campaign:

History isn’t just the domain of Historians and Academics. It’s yours. The Past belongs to YOU.

Medicine’s Dark Secrets will explore the reasons why certain bodies and artifacts were put on display in the museums we visit. It will trace medicine’s history backwards, investigating what happened to different body parts, how certain things became taboo and why others were hidden away in museum archives. From ‘sack ‘em up men’ to skin books, Dr. Fitzharris will examine the stories of the people whose deaths ultimately led to advances in medical science of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This promises to be a
groundbreaking new series, but neither medicine nor the historians who tell of its progress can do without support. In order to achieve these goals, a funding campaign has begun. Donations will help the project gain access to locations and collections, many of whicWax_finaledge_rogueSh have never been seen by the general public. What is history without the telling? Help Medicine’s Dark Secrets shine light in the cracks and crevices and join us in support: How to donate. Thank you, Dr. Fitzharris, for giving us one more reason to pry open the secrets of our shared medical past!

Daily Dose: Featuring the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, Lindsey Fitzharris

Welcome to Literary Medicine’s Daily Dose, companion to the Fiction Reboot!

Medical humanities is a growing field, a place where intersections not only of medicine and literature but also of medicine and narrative, culture and society are encouraged and explored. Durham University’s Center for Medical Humanities puts it this way: it is a field “in which humanities and social sciences perspectives are brought to bear upon an exploration of the human side of medicine.”

In the last few weeks, I have been featuring my own research into the weird and wonderful corners of medical history and literature. Today, however, I present the first of several posts featuring the work of my medical historian/medical humanist colleagues. Our guest for today is the woman behind Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a fantastic blog that has gained increasing attention over the last year. I present Lindsey Fitzharris, historian, colleague and friend!


Lindsey Fitzharris: Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

Lindsey Fitzharris is a medical historian who completed her doctorate at Oxford University with a specialty in the history of seventeenth-century alchemical pharmacopeia. Her interested are broad and cross boundaries–more interestingly, she has helped to make medical history and medical artifacts accessible to a broad audience. I have asked her to give us a few details on her present work, and to share with us her plans for the future in this expanding field. Lindsey is currently a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.

Welcome, Lindsey!

1. You are a historian of medicine and have been working in academe, but are also transitioning (like so many of us). As you carve a niche of your own, can you say a bit about this new role for academics-as-trailblazers? And how has your research interests helped to get you there?

To be honest, all of this has come about quite suddenly and unexpectedly (as most wonderful opportunities do in life). I started The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice as a way of reaching out to friends and family who did not understand what it was I did as a medical historian. Beyond that, I’ve also always had an inherent desire to share the stories I come across in my research with a broader audience, and this website allows me to do just that.

For me, it’s not about fame or recognition, although certainly new and exciting opportunities have sprung from it. In fact, I find comfort in hiding behind the persona of The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, and sometimes worry what readers will think if they learned I was not only a woman, but also an American (the secret is out now!)

For me, it’s about writing for an enthusiastic and inquisitive audience who may otherwise not have the opportunity to learn about early modern medicine. On several occasions, I have received emails from readers who tell me that they are both surprised and entertained by what they read on the website.

But perhaps most importantly, writing for The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has forced me to think about my own work from the perspective of a non-specialist. This, in turn, has helped me grow as a writer, as a communicator and as a historian. For me, this is deeply satisfying.

2. I am a big fan of your blog, The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice; in fact, I consider it a model for the Daily Dose (and a daily inspiration). I know it began as a way to elucidate the history of medicine (what we, as researchers, do) to family and friends–but has taken on a life of its own. Can you say a bit about its history?

I can’t believe it’s old enough to have a history!

The concept for The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice evolved from a conversation I had once with a friend. He’s a film-maker, and I, a mere historian. Yet, he was fascinated with my research. That got me thinking: maybe my work really is interesting. Driven partly by this and partly by the desire to reach beyond walls of academia, I started The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice.

Two years on, and the website now has a terrific following (6500+ fans from all over the world)! I am constantly amazed by the level of interest in The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, and touched by the responses I receive from readers on an almost daily basis now.

It inspires me to keep writing.

3. Can you say a bit about your current on-going projects? Where might we see you in the future?

If you had asked me two years ago where I saw myself going, it certainly wouldn’t have been here. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve taken from this entire experience is that life can change very quickly, and sometimes you just have to let yourself be swept up with it.

At the moment, I just finished filming a preview for a television series based off The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. It’s called “Medicine’s Dark Secrets” and will explore subjects such as anthropodermic bibliopegy (binding books with human skin), body-snatching, medical curiosities and criminal dissection in the 18th and 19th centuries. The series is being directed and filmed by Lesley-Anne Morrison and Gregg McNeill at Big Baby Productions in Scotland, and the preview will appear on their website at the end of the month.

I’ve also had an article on bloodletting practices accepted in New Scientist, and I have several others in the works.

4. You are also a “cross-over” author in another way–like some of my recent Fiction Reboot interviewees, you are working towards writing a novel. From Tessa Harris to Alex Grecian to Stephen Gallagher, medical history has made a big impact on shaping story. What are your plans/hopes for fiction? (So that I might host you again after your first release!)

I have always been a passionate storyteller. I suppose that is what first attracted me to history as a subject. I am so often moved by the stories I come across in my research—stories about the people who died, stories about the loved ones they left behind, and stories about the surgeons who overcame the unthinkable to learn more about the very thing that defines us: our anatomy.

I am currently working on two fiction projects: one is a historical novel which centers upon a surgeon in the 17th century who gets embroiled in a political cover-up. The other is a dark (and slightly disturbing) fairy tale which is a part of a larger project currently headed by Alex Anstey at Reality in Dreams. There are 8 writers altogether, and each story will be illustrated by a different artist. I’ve met with the other contributors and am so honored to be working with such a talented and imaginative group of writers!


Thank you, Lindsey–
And please stay tuned for more features on the Daily Dose! Upcoming: Richard Barnett of the Sick City Project! And of course, the Fiction Reboot returned tomorrow with more on the writing life!