Post List

All posts; Tags Include "History of Medicine"

(Modify Search »)

  • December 3, 2016
  • 07:25 AM

19th Century DIY Brain Stimulation

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

Fig. 4 (Wexler, 2016). Lindstrom's Electro-Medical Apparatus (ca. 1895), courtesy of the Bakken.

Think the do-it-yourself transcranial direct current stimulation movement (DIY tDCS) is a technologically savvy and hip creation of 21st century neural engineering? MIT graduate student Anna Wexler has an excellent and fun review of late 19th and early 20th century electrical stimulation

... Read more »

  • June 6, 2016
  • 11:34 AM

Burning seaweed to make glass and avoid a lumpy neck

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Seaweed is one of those tricky biological groups, as membership isn't just about being a close relative. It typically includes plant-like organisms found among several types of algae - green, brown, and red - and depending on who you're talking to also includes masses of cyanobacteria (which are distant relatives of algae). Functionally, all seaweeds enjoy growing in salty water and use the sun to manufacture sugary meals for themselves. Their need for sun means they are found in sunlit coastal ........ Read more »

  • April 26, 2016
  • 08:02 AM

Gently frying your eyeballs at work

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

When I was a kid, I got thwacked in the face with a golf club. It was totally my fault. I was goofing around with my cousins (as one does) and failed to notice one of them winding up for a swing. Ended up with four stitches, the first one just half an inch from my left eye.... Read more »

  • March 7, 2016
  • 11:05 AM

Making booze feel bad

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Alcohol-sensitizing drugs are used to ruin the experience of consuming alcohol. This can be helpful for people seeking treatment for alcohol dependence, but otherwise sounds absolutely terrible. After consuming an adult beverage, alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream and carried to your liver. There, it is set upon by two enzymes. The first, alcohol dehydrogenase, converts alcohol into acetaldehyde. The second enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, converts the acetaldehyde into acetic acid (the st........ Read more »

  • December 7, 2015
  • 12:38 PM

That time we used a blue bacterium to kill its relatives

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

In the time before penicillin or sulfa drugs, people used natural substances such as honey or plant oils to combat bacterial infections. I've written about a couple of these already, but it turns out I missed an important one. It's important because it represents one of the earliest efforts to turn the antibacterial weapons possessed by microbes against themselves, an approach that has yielded most of the antibacterial drugs we depend on today.Way back in the 1890s, researchers discovered they c........ Read more »

Poindexter HA. (1947) Status of subtilin and pyocyanine as antibiotics. Journal of the National Medical Association, 39(6), 241-248. PMID: 18896048  

  • November 18, 2015
  • 01:22 PM

Early wrong ideas about how our glands work

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Let's talk about glands! These highly specialized bits of tissue put together and pump out useful compounds to ensure we stay healthy and can do the things animals do (aim to reproduce, mostly). Exocrine glands release fluids such as sweat, saliva, milk, tears, mucous, and bile into segments of our digestive tract or onto the surface of our skin (and eyes). Endocrine glands toss hormones and other regulatory molecules into our bloodstream, to be carried to distant locales bearing instructions to........ Read more »

López-Muñoz F, Molina J, Rubio G, & Alamo C. (2011) An historical view of the pineal gland and mental disorders. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, 18(8), 1028-1037. DOI: 10.1016/j.jocn.2010.11.037  

  • October 21, 2015
  • 03:05 PM

A brief history of opium-based medicines named after people

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Back in the days before stringent rules governing the sale of drugs, store shelves were awash with medications bearing pretty labels extolling their ability to fix all sorts of diseases. Many were patent medicines containing lots of alcohol and/or opium, which of course on their own can temporarily numb pain and perhaps convince you that your particular illness isn't quite so bad. These medicines were often named after people involved in their creation and were generally useless aside from the b........ Read more »

  • October 21, 2015
  • 09:30 AM

Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Halloween brings stories of the undead, the dead coming back to life, and the dead staying dead but still coming to visit you. But the scariest of all is the prospect of being buried alive. It happened all to often in the most recent three centuries, so people devised some amazing precautions to prevent premature burial. Nowadays it’s less likely to happen, but there are several conditions that can mimic death and could lead to fingernail scratches inside the lid of a casket.... Read more »

Christopher Dibble. (2010) The Dead Ringer: Medicine, Poe, and the fear of premature burial. Historia Medicinae. info:/

  • October 21, 2014
  • 08:00 AM

Not Quite Dead Yet

by Mark E. Lasbury in The 'Scope

History shows that premature burial was more common than people might want to believe. Many burial traditions, including the Irish wake, stem from trying to prevent someone from being buried alive. How might this happen? Several medical conditions can lead to a poor decision on burial time. ... Read more »

Christopher Dibble. (2010) The Dead Ringer: Medicine, Poe, and the fear of premature burial. Historia Medicinae. info:/

  • October 17, 2012
  • 09:00 AM

Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Historically, judgment of death has been made by nonspecialists. This led to documented instances of premature burial. Many conditions could make it appear one was dead, including coma. Defined as loss of consciousness and insensitivity to stimuli for a period of more than six hours, coma has varied presentations and outcomes. New research indicates that use of the Glasgow coma scale before arrival at the emergency room can be beneficial for treatment and prognosis.... Read more »

Christopher Dibble. (2010) The Dead Ringer: Medicine, Poe, and the fear of premature burial. Historia Medicinae. info:/

  • February 27, 2012
  • 12:00 AM

Gothic Epidemiology? or Gothic Historiography?

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

I was reading David Mengel’s recent article on plague in Bohemia and he kept referring to this apparently well-known concept, gothic epidemiology. Being the early medieval geek that I am, my first thought was Ostrogoth or Visigoth, and what do they have to do with epidemiology, especially in Bohemia? Feeling that I was clearing missing [...]... Read more »

  • February 16, 2012
  • 06:02 AM

Remembering Tinsley Harrison, the Oslerian Physician

by Pranab Chatterjee in Scepticemia

The past few weeks have been very demanding on me and I have not had the best of times, either on the personal or on the professional front. So, today, I took a break from the usual drudgery of life and decided to take a step back and remind myself of the bigger picture of [...]... Read more »

  • January 16, 2012
  • 08:39 AM

Retrospective Diagnosis in the 21st Century

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

The way we make and think about retrospective diagnosis is changing. Over the last decade, laboratory results have become the preferred (maybe even mandatory) method of making a retrospective diagnosis [1]. To extrapolate a few positive laboratory results to cover an entire epidemic, it must correlate with reported signs and symptoms and ideally epidemiology. There [...]... Read more »

  • November 26, 2011
  • 03:30 PM

Did India and China Escape the Black Death?

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

One of the few things everyone studying the plague can, I think, agree on is the importance of plague dynamics in Asia. Genetic diversity and biogeography suggest that Yersinia pestis evolved in East Central Asia (S. Russia, Mongolia, N. China) and spread along the Eurasian steppe from the Caspian Sea in Kazakstan to the Mongolia [...]... Read more »

Morelli G, Song Y, Mazzoni CJ, Eppinger M, Roumagnac P, Wagner DM, Feldkamp M, Kusecek B, Vogler AJ, Li Y.... (2010) Yersinia pestis genome sequencing identifies patterns of global phylogenetic diversity. Nature genetics. PMID: 21037571  

Sussman GD. (2011) Was the black death in India and china?. Bulletin of the history of medicine, 85(3), 319-55. PMID: 22080795  

  • June 29, 2011
  • 03:23 PM

Argyll Robertson: Better Be His Pupil, Than Have It!

by Pranab Chatterjee in Scepticemia

Argyll Robertson pupils (“AR pupils”) are bilateral small pupils that constrict when the patient focuses on a near object (they “accommodate”), but do not constrict when exposed to bright light (they do not “react” to light). This condition is colloquially … Continue reading →... Read more »

Timoney PJ, & Breathnach CS. (2010) Douglas Argyll Robertson (1837-1909) and his pupil. Irish journal of medical science, 179(1), 119-21. PMID: 20069387  

  • June 6, 2011
  • 07:00 AM

Trench Fever and Plague in 14th Century France

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

The Marseille plague group has been suggesting for some time now that human lice could be a major vector of medieval plague. To test their hypothesis the group devised a multiplex PCR screening method to rapidly screen many aDNA samples for seven pathogens that could cause medieval epidemics, including relapsing fever and trench fever transmitted by human lice. ... Read more »

  • December 31, 2010
  • 06:54 PM

Pandemic Influenza: 1510 – 2010

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

My first clue on the existence of specific influenza pandemics before 1918 came a few years ago while reading some local newspapers on the Spanish Flu itself. The papers were warning people that this was not an ordinary flu year, it would be like 1893! The papers referred to 1893 in the same way that [...]... Read more »

  • September 3, 2010
  • 06:00 AM

Plague among the nuts

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

David Woods was looking at the early Irish chronicles and he noticed something very odd. There are clusters of entries recording large mast crops. Mast? In Ireland, that would be mostly acorns..  In these sparse annals that normally only record battles, deaths,  and other major events, why record large acorn falls? The only typical use [...]... Read more »

David Woods. (2003) Acorns, the Plague, and the 'Iona Chronicle'. Peritia, 495-502. info:/

  • June 17, 2010
  • 02:51 AM

Beyond Pelusium

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

The origins of the first plague pandemic have always been something of a mystery. The plague is first reported in mid-July 541 at the Egyptian port of Pelusium, a secondary port on the eastern end of the Nile delta. From Pelusium it spread both east to the Levant and west to Alexandria where it hopped [...]... Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SRI Technology.

To learn more, visit