Paris Journey at its End

May 10-May 18–eight days, two train rides, one “security breach,” numerous museums and more French bread than a reasonable constitution can consume without practice. At last, we (Women’s and Gender Studies class on history of birth) have returned from Paris.

I can safely say the students enjoyed the journey (feel free to check out their blog at WAGS348). I also greatly enjoyed the trip–that’s me in the cemetery looking very queen-of-the-dead pleased with myself–but by evensong, I was too exhausted to be particularly consistent with the blog.

Alas, I provide the summary instead:

I allowed the students the weekend to adjust. They were encouraged to visit museums in groups. Classes began in the morning (except for Sunday, when a number of them went to Notre Dame cathedral). We discussed the books, the class parameters and–of course–the mysteries of the Metro. We met again for dinner each evening to detox and discuss the day. Then, by Monday, the concentrated museum visits began.

Musée d’histoire de la médecine

We began with the museum in downtown Paris at l’Universite Paris Descartes. A wonderful collection of tools, it helped to illustrate what our books had been teaching us about the history of medecine.

Musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la médecine — The Museum of Flaubert and the History of Medicine

Tuesday, we trained to Rouen to see two museums. We went to the Natural History museum, which has an excellent collection and very knowledgeable tour guides. Birth and care of infants among animals was primary. More specific to our class was the museum of medical history that housed Madame du Coudray’s last surviving birthing phantom–a doll the students had read about, right before their eyes! The guide, who spoke excellent English (necessary as the students were not fluent in French), gave us extra details–including a look at an ossified fetus. It had been found during the autopsy of a woman, and had been inside her body for over 20 years!

Wellcome Library

We had the best of intentions to go to the Wellcome Library in London on Wednesday. However, a security breach (in the form of an open fire door) closed down the station for so long that we had to cancel the trip. It was very disappointing, as the students were going to get reader cards, have a presentation and see materials at the collection. However, we made the best of it and several students were able to see the catacombs on this day instead–the end rather than the beginning of life.

The students have demonstrated their confidence, their aptitude, and their ability for creative thinking. They have made connections between history and culture that are not possible without such experiences. I look forward to their final projects (all of which sound interesting) and to our final excursion–a trip to the Mayo Clinic Birthing Center. We have traveled through time and space on this gender-studies tour of birth; I am pleased to say that it has been a success (though an exhausting one for the professor, who has been juggling schedules and receipts for 15 people in total…and doing most of the daily translation!)

Thank you to all who participated, all who provided help or opened your doors to the students and myself.

Note: I have not said much about the food. I don’t need to. They have all been taking photos and posting about every morsel. I shall try to compile some of that–but in the meantime, I leave you with a quote from my student Becky:

I thought it was heaven, but it’s cheese. And its better!


Paris: Musée de l’histoire de la médecine

Museums of Medicine

One of my main goals for this trip was researching the possibility of a student trip in 2012. I spent, therefore, a good bit of the trip doing the practicum: that is, I was attempting to master logistics of travel, lodging, food and incidentals. Once I had sorted out which Metro stations students would need to know, where best to purchase tickets,  and whether the hostel would be hospitable, I still needed to trace out a museum tour. I was once again greatly helped in this quest by Dr. Edmonson, who–rather like my EIC Woody Gaines–knows and is known by everyone. (A joke among the staff of CMP is that Dr. Gaines does not just know stuff, he knows the president of stuff–Dr. Edmonson is of a kind). Through his help, I was introduced to the Musée de l’histoire de la médecine, which is actually located inside the Université Paris Descartes. It is on the upper floor, a fabulous room of Victorian appeal, rich wood and fascinating  exhibitions.

The Musée de l’histoire de la médecine is curated by Marie-Véronique Clin-Meyer, president of the European Association of Museums of the History of the Medical Sciences and hosted the Council meeting in her museum in the past. It will be a good introduction for the students, who will also be visiting the Musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la médecine, where one of the original birthing phantoms of Madame du Coudray is still housed. A further benefit of Mme Clin-Meyer’s museum, however, is the artwork. There as a number of very interesting paintings housed there, including a large canvas marking the opening of Jean Martin Charcot’s lecture in 1882. The painting is described in the museum’s visitor booklet, which describes these lectures and Charcot’s election to chair of nervous diseases as the dawn of neurology.

L’Université Paris Descartes… and CMP

One of the great advantages of my post as Managing Editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry  is the privilege of meeting and working with incredible people. I have been honored not only to work with our Editor, Dr. Atwood Gaines, but I have met (in person or through correspondence), people at the very pinnacle of their fields–Arthur Kleinman, Margaret Lock, Byron and MaryJo  DelVecchio Good, and many, many others. While in Paris, I also had the opportunity to meet another of Dr. Gaines’ colleagues, Pr Christian Hervé. Director of the Laboratoire d’éthique médicale et médecine légale at L’Université Paris Descartes. The center is the doctoral program of medical and biological ethics, a “réflexion éthique sur les pratiques de médecine et de biologie“.

I have always had an abiding interest in intersections; you might say I find everything more engaging at the crossroads. My interest in literature (1690-1800s) it almost always  deepened and colored by my interests in medicine and history. This kind of study cannot exist without collaboration–interdisciplinarity cannot thrive in a vacuum. My meeting with Dr. Hervé was therefore a great pleasure, as he promotes interdisciplinarity in his program. I am taking a class of students (pending approval) to Paris next year, to see museums in Paris, London and Rouen–I hope to spend more time in Paris, and I hope, as always, to continue meeting with colleagues in the wider world of academe.