I have spent the past month enthralled with my Monday night TV options: TVO (the public television channel in Ontario) has been airing the 4-part series “Victorian Pharmacy” that originally aired on the BBC this past summer.
The series is an historical documentary that traces the history of the pharmacy through the Victorian era (each episode is set at a progressively later date). Set at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire, it stars domestic historian Ruth Goodman, professor at the School of Pharmacy Nick Barber, and PhD student Tom Quick. Dr. Goodman has participated in several similar projects including Tales from the Green Valley (everyday life on a farm in Wales, circa 1620), Edwardian Farm, Victorian Farm, and Victorian Farm Christmas.
A quick synopsis: In episode one, set in 1837, the group explored some early treatments: including the use of leeches, an oil compound made of earthworm, the bronchial kettle, and the discovery of Indian tonic water. Episode two progressed to the mid-nineteenth century and explored “cure-alls” and disinfectants. Episode three faced the new regulations that were established for pharmacists in 1868 and portrayed the cast taking the examinations (which included the practical test of creating a suppository) – they also discussed the loophole in the legislation that allowed women to emerge in the developing field of pharmaceuticals. Finally, episode four, set at the end of the Victorian era, featured new techniques in dentistry (including a foot-pedal drill), the creation of condoms out of sheep intestines, and the latest developments in photography. What made Victorian Pharmacy so engaging, to me at least, was not only the discussion of various developments in the history of the pharmacy and medical treatments, but that the cast prepared and tried out these treatments.
I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to recreate psychology’s early labs – perhaps looking first to Wilhelm Wundt’s lab and then moving to the United States to compare how their labs were both similar and different. We may not have an open air museum like Blists Hill to draw on, but there is still a fair amount of apparatus hanging around from the “Brass & Glass” era with enough photos to help recreate what the labs would have looked like…..
If you missed the original broadcast of Victorian Pharmacy on the BBC or the re-airing on TVO, the episodes are available on TVO’s website: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four.
Report from the Conference
It was another great day at the History of Science Society conference. The day included a great presentation by Arlie Belliveau (York University) in which she looked at the micromotion films of the Gilbreths as a translation device for enabling communication between engineering Taylorists and psychologist industrial managers. And of course, no Gilbreth presentation would be complete without some great video (Belliveau showed footage from the Ball Brothers Mason Jar Factory in 1918 but I could only find bricklaying footage to share here)
There was also a Darwin session chaired by Bob Richards (University of Chicago) which featured a number of interesting talks. Personally I was particularly interested in Kathryn Tabb’s (University of Pittsburg) discussion of the influence of Darwin’s interest in insanity on the development of his later theory. She focused on the period between 1837-1839, drawing heavily from Darwin’s notebook M and notebook N.
That wrapped up the last full day of the HSS conference (Ah Montréal, tu me manques déjà!) – next year’s meeting will be held in Cleveland, Ohio.
Report from the Conference
The annual meeting of the History of Science Society has returned to Canada, meeting this year in Montreal, Quebec. The conference attracts an international crowd of presenters and attendees who come to discuss a wide spectrum of topics within the history of science. This year the group is meeting in conjunction with the Philosophy of Science Association.
Tonight’s evening session was certainly one of the highlights of the first full day of programming: “Psychology in the 20th Century” ran during the 7:30-9:30pm time slot. Jeremy Blatter (Harvard University) opened the session with a discussion of Hugo Munsterberg’s use of film as a venue to promote and popularize psychology. The presentation included a clip that illustrated what participants would have seen in some early psychological research that used film. Blatter also mentioned an extension of the project for which he is recreating the psycological test films that Munsterberg created for Paramount based on the remaining archival material relevant to the project. Next was Brian Casey’s (National Institute of Health) talk on re-emergence of psychosurgery in the 1970s and the relationship between the National Institute of Mental Health and society. Some of the many elements Casey highlighted was how the psychosurgery story showcases how the NIMH weathered the anti-psychiatry movement and their role in civil rights history. Jason Richard Miller (UCLA) discussed Henry Murray’s development of the Thematic Apperception Test and the role he played with the OSS during the war as an aid to recruitment. Finally, Justin Garson (University of Utah) ended the evening with a talk about the physiologist Edgar Adrian, who won the Nobel prize in 1926 for recording the electrical activity of a single neuron, and his use of terms such as “information”, “message”, and “signaling” to describe nerve action. Garson suggested that one of the elements that prompted Adrian to use these communication analogies was earlier research conducted in the field with vacuum tubes.
Continue reading HSS in Montreal
I have recently been playing around on Twitter (yes, I’m behind the trends) and generally get generic messages from friends or family about random thoughts or adventures. Today I received something a bit different though, a tweet that read: “Our blog is now active! Check out our first post…” from @UTSIC or the Twitter account of the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection.
The University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection (UTSIC) is a collection of instruments from various scientific fields that have been assembled at the University of Toronto since the late 1970s. The original intention for the collection was to create a museum, a project which has never been realized. Despite this frustration, a dedicated group of volunteers has continued to work towards preserving, growing, and cataloguing the collection. The first post on the group’s new blog provides a history of the collection (the post was also published in Spontaneous Generations, an online peer-reviewed journal for the history and philosophy of science).
I recently had the opportunity to tour the UTSIC and meet one of the group’s members, Erich Weidenhammer (also one of the co-authors of the UTSIC first blog post). The collection is quite diverse ranging from multiple galvonometers to microscopes to scales used to weigh babies to items that have not yet been identified.
AHP readers should note that UTSIC is separately maintained from the Brass Instrument Collection which is also located at the University of Toronto.
The September issue of the APS Observer features an article by Nick Joyce and Cathy Faye of the Archives of the History of American Psychology (AHAP). The article, “Skinner Air Crib“, discusses the development of the air crib by B.F. Skinner in the mid-1940s – a climate controlled environment designed to encourage a child’s development. The article discusses some of the myths and legends surround the use of the crib in the Skinner home and also why it failed to gain more widespread popularity in North America.
But the story of the air crib is bigger than just the Skinner story. In 1939, a Dutch doctor created an air crib in Groningen as an aid to child rearing. The outcome was different than the North American story, with the crib still being manufactured and used in some homes in The Netherlands today. The cribs are called “babyhuisjes” in Dutch which translates roughly to “baby house”. Want to build you own babyhuisjes? See here and here.