2015 Annual Report

_DSC0003This has been an extraordinarily productive year for the Center for the History of Medicine as well as for me personally. The Center continues to enlighten our community in the form of events, lectures and public programs, as well as building important partnerships with key cultural institutions in Ann Arbor.

For the past several years, the Center has screened medically related films at the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor as part of a “Science on Screen” series. This past February we featured a screening of Contagion, followed by a short discussion of how accurately the film portrays a large-scale epidemic and the national response. Our guest speaker was Dr. Martin Cetron, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. Dr. Cetron had just recently worked to help control the MERS-CoV outbreak in the Middle East and the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. For 2016, we will be showing Erin Brockovich, followed by a talk by Professor David Rosner of Columbia University, an expert on the history of environmental health and the problems of lead paint exposure.

On April 12, the Center hosted Professor David Oshinsky of New York University to deliver the 15th Annual Horace Davenport Lecture in the Medical Humanities. Co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and with introductions by University of Michigan President Dr. Mark Schlissel, the event commemorated the 60th anniversary of the announcement of an effective vaccine for polio. Over one hundred guests from both U-M and the general public – several of whom were survivors of polio – came to hear Professor Oshinsky discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Polio: An American Story. The event was one of the Center’s most well attended lectures.

In May, Dr. Alex Navarro, Assistant Director of the Center, was invited to participate in two-day event at the U-M Rackham Graduate School on alternative career paths for doctoral students. The event included a panel discussion and mentoring workshops, where Dr. Navarro met with several advanced graduate students from across disciplines to share his insights on ways for students to pursue non-tenure track academic careers.

In October, the Center co-sponsored a two-day conference entitled “Vested Interests: Who Really Controls American Medicine, Public Health, and Health Policy” in collaboration with the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation (IHPI). Working with Dr. John Ayanian, the director of IHPI and Gail Campanella, the IHPI managing director, Dr. Navarro took a lead role in mounting this huge conference and developing many of the ideas and themes we discussed. Our administrator, Heidi Mueller did an enormous amount of work planning and executing the logistics of this national conference. Dr. Richard Besser, chief medical correspondent for ABC News, delivered the keynote address, and spoke on vested interests in reporting health and medicine in the media. Following Dr. Besser’s address was a very well attended panel discussion on the state of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, moderated by Jonathan Cohn of The Huffington Post. The next day we held a series of presentations and commentaries on vested interests in the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry, environmental health and social justice, and conflicts of interest in academic medical centers. The event was so successful that we are in the beginning phases of collaborating with U-M IHPI and the School of Public Health on a conference on pandemic preparedness and response, to be held in spring 2017.

The Center is proud to be carrying on the tradition of the Victor Vaughan Society for medical students, an organization that dates back to 1929 and that is the oldest such society in continual existence. Each month we host a discussion on a topic in the medical humanities. This year we have discussed topics ranging from discussions of novels and short stories to paintings and medical journalism. In addition, the Center has co-sponsored several medical student grand round lectures, which are part of the Medical School’s new curriculum.

In addition to public outreach and programming, it has been a very productive year for the Center’s research projects. For the past several years we have been engaged in a qualitative study of 30 American urban responses to the outbreak of the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza pandemic, focusing on the decision whether or not to implement school closures as a community mitigation strategy. Collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we collected and analyzed thousands of documents, including media reports; public service announcements and circulars; pandemic preparedness guidelines; after action reports; local, state, and federal documents; transcripts of meeting minutes and testimonies; and academic research papers. In addition, we conducted interviews with numerous officials in public health and education. Our research has culminated in a paper, “A Tale of Many Cities: A Contemporary Historical Study of the Implementation of School Closures during the 2009 A(H1N1) Influenza Pandemic,” which we are happy to announce has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. In this enormous project, Dr. Navarro took a lead role in executing the logistics, mastering the research data and developing and composing a superb report for publication.

We have also been busy updating our massive digital influenza archive, The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia (www.influenzaarchive.org). The first edition of this historical project was formally launched on October 12, 2012 to critical acclaim. It is the largest digital archive of a pandemic ever created, containing tens of thousands of archival documents, newspaper articles, and images, as well as the detailed histories of the epidemic as it played out in over 50 U.S. cities. The Digital Encyclopedia is widely used by historians, students, pandemic modelers and public health professionals around the world. In fact, it is the most visited website in MPublishing’s stable. Over 80% of the page-views are from new visitors, and many visitors spend upwards of five minutes per page. It is, without doubt, the most ambitious and widely disseminated project ever accomplished at the Center.

Building on the success of this archive, we are presently working on a second edition – Digital Encyclopedia (2.0) – that will include several thousand new documents from seminal medical and public health literature of the era, military and government reports on the epidemic, as well as a section on escape communities in the U.S. that closed their doors to the influenza before it arrived to their cities or institutions. One of the benefits of a digital encyclopedia over a bound version is our ability to constantly update and expand it. We are committed to keeping The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia the world’s foremost collection of research materials related to that public health event, and we will seek out and curate additional materials in the coming years as we develop successive editions of this digital encyclopedia.

Personally, this has also been an extremely productive year. I published six peer-reviewed papers in first-rate journals and another 19 publications for the lay-press.  I continue to write a monthly column for PBS NewsHour, many of which have become the most downloaded essays on the website, including pieces on the deaths of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth’s diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer, and the infamous “Tylenol murders” of 1982. I have also frequently appeared on the PBS NewsHour show this past year to discuss these (and other) topics and have written essays for the prestigious New Republic and the widely read Reuters Opinion and Huffington Post.  These activities help bring my scholarly work and the activities of the U-M Center for the History of Medicine to millions of readers and listeners across the United States and around the globe.

As the editor-in-chief of The Milbank Quarterly, one of the most prestigious and highest rated ISI impact score journal of health policy and population health in the United States, I have edited and overseen the development and publication of some of the most influential, highly cited, and widely disseminated health policy articles of 2015.  Bringing this journal to the U-M Center for the History of Medicine brings great prestige to our unit, especially as it seeks to advance scholarship in health policy.

In March, I was the featured medical historical expert on the Ken Burns/Siddhartha Mukherjee PBS documentary, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a six-part series that was viewed by millions of people around the world.

In April of 2015, I was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for demonstrating “exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” I am presently at work on a book about the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek, Michigan – Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who invented the concept of “wellness” at his famed Battle Creek Sanitarium, and his younger brother, Will Kellogg, who co-invented corn flakes, which was initially a health food, and developed that product into a world famous cereal company. The book, to be published in 2017 by Pantheon/Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin/Random House, will explore the history of American medicine from the Civil War to World War II, the creation of food manufacturing, mass advertising and marketing, and a contentious relationship between two brothers who, literally, changed the world.

All of these endeavors, in addition to our other work, research, teaching, and public programs, have made the Center for the History of Medicine the leading, most widely published, and best funded history of medicine unit in the nation, if not the world. We look forward to continuing our high quality work in 2016.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and rewarding 2016.

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