ND alum Margaret Humphreys (PLS '76), the Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine at Duke University, visits Notre Dame this Friday to deliver a lecture and meet with current students. Her talk, at 1 pm in 119 O'Shaughnessy Hall, is titled “The Importance of Good (and Bad) Medical Care in the American Civil War." She will meet informally with undergraduates immediately following the lecture (2:15 pm). Below is a description of her lecture and a brief scholarly biography.
TOPIC: During the crisis following the Haitian earthquake of 2010 one physician commented that "we're practicing Civil War medicine here," referring to the absence of supplies and primitive environment of care. Actually, the well-run Civil War hospital offered superior care to that possible in quake-ravaged Haiti. This paper will outline the components of the best and worst of Civil War medicine, and argue that the conditions in southern hospitals were so far inferior to those of the north that it probably made a difference to the war effort. In the northern hospitals men shot rats as a target practice game; in the south they roasted them for lunch. Important aspects of the best care were nutritious food, medicines such as chloroform, quinine, and opium, and sufficient staff to ensure cleanliness and care of the weakened or wounded body. It is difficult to assess hospital outcomes due the quality of the data, but what information is available indicates that the disparities between northern and southern hospitals were a factor in the manpower issues that dominated the war’s final years.
BIOGRAPHY: Margaret Humphreys is the Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine at Duke University, where she holds appointments in the Departments of History and Medicine, and edits the Journal of the History of Medicine. She received her BA from Notre Dame in 1976 (PLS), PhD in the History of Science (1983) and MD (1987) from Harvard University, and is the author of Yellow Fever and the South (Rutgers, 1992) and Malaria: Poverty, Race and Public Health in the United States (Johns Hopkins, 2001), books that explore the tropical disease environment of the American South, and its role in the national public health effort. Her current research concerns the impact of the Civil War on American medicine. The first book to emerge from that project, Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War, appeared in 2008. In 2013 Johns Hopkins University Press will publish her newest volume, The Health Crisis of the Civil War: Call and Response.