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  March 3, 2003

Health Center Group Explores
Topics In History Of Medicine
By Pat Keefe

"Ring around the rosie. A pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down ..."

Whether that children's rhyme is a carryover from the Black Death of the 14th century has been hotly debated for years. If it is, it's strange to think of children nearly 800 years later playing, then tumbling, mouthing words that represented death for between a third and a half of the world's population.

On the second Wednesday of each month, just after work, the Robert U. Massey History of Medicine Society meets at the Health Center to take up topics such as plague. Or lobotomy. Or presidents' diseases, the influenza pandemic of 1918, smallpox, or a score of other possible subjects.

Image: Dr. Karen Prestwood
Dr. Karen Prestwood gives a talk on "Holistic Health Care for Modern Times: An Ancient Practice Renewed" on February 12 as part of the History of Medicine lecture series.
Photo by Peter Morenus

The society is named in honor of Dr. Robert Massey, the school of medicine's dean from 1971 to 1985. Dr. Massey has a lifelong personal interest in the subject. He was editor of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences from 1987 to 1991 and has taught the history of medicine as an elective course at the Health Center for many years.

The society, a group that has met since the early 1980s but was formalized in 1998, comprises individuals who share an interest in the history of medicine. The group describes itself as seeking to "foster an understanding of medicine's historical context and an appreciation for the cultural and social settings in which medical developments have taken place."

Concettina Gillies, an assistant professor of anatomic pathology and a specialist in electron microscopy, says she has been attending the society's meetings since they began.

Dr. Richard Ratzan of West Hartford, a clinical faculty member and emergency department physician at Hartford Hospital, says he tries to go to all the meetings. "I've been going on and off for 20 years," he says. "I'm particularly interested in Hippocratic medicine - the medicine of ancient Greece and Rome - but the society's topics are varied: everything from Civil War medicine to the history of rheumatic fever."

The society offers both education and entertainment.

"On a campus like ours, unlike the main campus, there are limited opportunities for the humanities," says Ralph Arcari, director of the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library. "The faculty and students need an appreciation of their own profession. The history of medicine society serves to reinforce the roots of the profession the students will learn here and that the faculty serves here."

The society also engages other groups with similar interests, Arcari notes, and has held joint meetings with the Beaumont Club, Yale University's history of medicine society, and the Hartford Medical Society.

Speakers are drawn from a variety of hospitals, health-related agencies, and colleges and universities.

Andrew Warren, a technical systems analyst at the Health Center and 2001 graduate of the master's in public health program, presented a talk in January on Bubonic Plague. Warren teaches an anthropology course at Central Connecticut State University on "Plagues and People."

He says medical students are so busy they don't have much time to explore historical topics: "I think it's vital that we make information like the history of medicine available to them, so they will have an improved understanding of medicine as a whole."

The season continues March 12 with Zita Lazzarini on "Protection of Human Subjects: The Legacy of Human Experimentation in the 20th Century," and April 9 with Dr. Harry Sanchez on "The Illness of Charles Darwin."

The society is organized and administered through the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library, by Arcari and Mary Petruzzi. Meetings are held from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Health Center's

Patterson Auditorium. For information, call 860.679.2840 or go to this website.

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