NOW 8/1: Join Us in Speaking Out Against Global Violence

We have pushed the deadline for brief reflections back to Monday 8/1. Please consider joining us!

The editorial team at MedHum | Daily Dose have been reflecting on how to Acknowledge and combat the ongoing systemic physical harm against people of color in the United States, and the recent incidents of violence in Nice, France and Turkey.

We want to create a space for your voices as individuals with experience at the intersection of medical humanities and public life. We are seeking brief reflections, two or three sentences long, that recognize the multitude of perspectives and emotions brought forth by both the direct and indirect experience of these violent events. Shaping a quilt of quotes from contributors, we want to highlight your efforts toward and thoughts on creating safe spaces for yourself and your communities. We invite you to join us in a collaborative post that will go live next Wednesday.

Please send your thoughts to medhumfictiondailydose@gmail.com by Monday, August 1, 11:59pm GMT.

Have more to say? We also invite you to consider pitching longer pieces on the public health hazard that systemic violence represents. If you have experience in activism or research in this area. If you have ideas for a longer piece, please email medhumfictiondailydose@gmail.com with a brief description of your idea to begin that conversation.

Book Review: Rivers of London

BookReviewLogoRivers of London (retitled Midnight Riot in the US) is the first of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books, a Pratchettian gambol through a London where magic is real and genus locii more lively than you might think. If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, you might recognize Aaronovitch’s name as the writer of Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, both stand-out episodes for the seventh Doctor.

9317452Rivers of London opens with PC Peter Grant on the beat with his fellow PC, Lesley May, and a murder. Grant and May are both nearing the end of their probationary periods as constables with the London Metropolitan police force, awaiting their permanent assignments to units within the Met. Lesley is confident of ending up somewhere she wants to be; Peter, particularly after he finds himself interviewing a ghost at the scene of the murder, less so. After his supernatural encounter, Peter is seconded to DCI Thomas Nightingale, the sole remaining practitioner of magic with the Met and sole resident of the Folly, the home of magic in London.

After that, things get odd.

The story is told by Peter who is quick, clever, and canny but by no means omnipotent or omniscient; the fallibility of his voice is refreshing, bringing the reader into closer sympathy with him. The murder mystery quickly turns dark as the deaths mount up; Aaronovitch has put thought into his system of magic and it is not without severe consequences for misuse or abuse. Alongside Peter, Lesley, and Nightingale, Aaronovitch has created a vivid and compelling cast of secondary characters, including the eponymous rivers, several ghosts, a lively terrier, and Nightingale’s housekeeper who is probably not as human as she appears to be.

Aaronovitch comes as close as any comic fantasy writer I know of to creating a world as involving, as frightening, and as funny as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. And if you enjoy the first, there are currently five more titles in the series to immerse yourself in during the next summer heatwave.

Book Review: Gothic to Goth

BookReviewLogoReview by Mary Manning

In Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2016), Lynne Zacek Bassett tracks trends of historicism, naturalism, and emotion in fashion from the early nineteenth century through the present day.  Bassett, a very well respected costume historian and curator, has a long record of producing thoughtful texts on the role of clothing and textiles in American life and especially in New England.  Written to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, Gothic to Goth is similarly thoughtful in the clear connections it poses between seemingly disparate objects to argue for the societal influences that determined why men and women dressed the Romantic ways that they did.

1976.33-detailThough a slim volume, Gothic to Goth presents a narrative that is both authoritative and instructive.  Bassett first provides an extended definition of Romanticism as a movement, explaining its underpinnings in philosophy as well as two crucial aspects of the exhibition’s content: the way it was disseminated to varied social classes through literature and poetry and how the American variant differed from its British and German contemporaries for religious and democratic reasons.  Bassett then proceeds to address a selection of components that make up Romantic style—historicism, color and pattern, religion, nature, emotion—and builds as she goes along, drawing these elements together over and over.  In doing so, she productively indicates how this style’s reliance on nature and abstract ideals belies its practical and social complexity.  Her construction of Romanticism and the Gothic as hardy and resilient forms of expression serves her well when she reaches more recent couture interpretations of these styles.  It is the logical conclusion of her historical analysis that designers like Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, and Jean-Paul Gaulthier would be interested in adapting the Romantic idiom for new audiences.

The credibility of Bassett’s arguments depends on the viability of her comparisons across media and across eras—in other words, does it make sense when she compares a building to a tree to a dress? With the catalogue’s lavish and carefully selected illustrations, the answer, more often than not, is yes.  Yet because this catalogue focuses on providing such a convincing overview of its topic, there are certainly items of clothing, objects, or lines of argument that may have deserved further analysis in a different context.  For example, Bassett quickly informs readers that Victorian mothers were not as modest when it comes to breastfeeding as modern audiences might think and includes an exquisite ca. 1845 nursing dress tailored to hide its removable panels.  With this dress and other items, suggestions of how the “natural” body is contained or policed (or not) by fashion come up frequently and could play a larger role in a more overtly analytical consideration of the subject matter.  Similarly, though the connections to more recent fashion are substantial, their many components and allegiances are not as thoroughly spelled out as the ones for their nineteenth-century antecedents. However, it is fair to state that the twentieth- and twenty-first century variations on Romanticism could fill another whole exhibition of their own.

It is a strength of Gothic to Goth that it will provide useful information to both general and specialist audiences.  Those readers encountering Romanticism for the first time, perhaps coming to this text through the lens of contemporary punk, goth, or steampunk fashion, will find direct, well-argued historical context.  A specialist audience looking to situate particular trends will be well-served by the connections Bassett draws between clothing and a wide variety of visual art, decorative and design objects, literature, and print media.  This exhibition catalogue navigates successfully between the mainstream and the macabre and makes the case that the consequences of nineteenth-century Romanticism still persist in our decidedly unromantic modern world.

Manning, pictureMary Manning has a Ph.D. in Art History, which allows her to professionally obsess about paintings and/or nineteenth-century France.  She currently lives in the Cleveland area and, as an AmeriCorps Member, works with local history organizations on projects that allow them to do more and serve more people.

Book Review: Nature’s Path

BookReviewLogoReview by Jennifer Ernie-Steighner

Titled after the first American lay publication dedicated to natural healing, Nature’s Path: A History of Naturopathic Healing in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2016), eloquently weaves together the insightful and, at times, radical sociopolitical, cultural, and medical history of naturopathy from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.  Susan E. Cayleff, medical historian and professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, proves well suited to undertaking the first comprehensive study of an alternative medical system defined as much by its struggle for self-definition as by its philosophy of natural treatments and medical freedom.  Informed by a myriad of source materials, from patient testimonials to the publications of founding naturopathic leaders and legal proceedings, Cayleff offers a meticulously researched monograph that strives to answer the question: What has occurred since the founding of naturopathy as a broadly-defined set of therapeutics “to alter yet empower the work of naturopaths” (11)?  The conclusion is, much like the practices of nature healers, multi-faceted and complex.

9781421419039Focusing on the history of naturopathy as a profession, rather than its popular reception or clientele, Cayleff provides a necessary boundary for the vastness of her work.  Recognizing that naturopathy has often included an ill-defined assortment of healing modalities, Nature’s Path grounds readers through eleven well-structured chapters of chronological and thematic presentation.  Chapter 1 introduces the origins of the term naturopathy during fin-de-siècle America.  Cayleff highlights the legal, professional, and personal significance of the term for nature curers who often faced legal prosecution throughout the early- to mid-twentieth century.  The term also encapsulates the often radical socio-political stance of numerous natural healers, including prominent American naturopath Benedict Lust, who viewed the term “as a living protest against the autocracy, coercion, imposition, intolerance, and persecution” of allopathic medicine and the growing American Medical Association (14).   Continue reading “Book Review: Nature’s Path”