2014 Annual Report

Dr. Howard Markel headshotThis has been an extraordinarily productive year for the Center for the History of Medicine.

Our historical research and public health policy advisory work on influenza pandemics continues. In 2010, the Center was awarded a multi-million dollar contract with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study the non-pharmaceutical measures taken during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Partnering with the CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine as well as with colleagues at the U-M School of Public Health, we have completed two separate studies on the uses of school closures during the 2009 influenza pandemic. As was the case with our landmark study of the 1918 pandemic, we believe that these two projects substantively contribute to the literature and will be of great value to policymakers and epidemiologists in future pandemic events.

As you may recall, two years ago we launched The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia. We are proud to announce that the site has emerged as a leading reference source for information on the 1918 pandemic in America for scholars, public health professionals, students, and teachers around the world. It is the largest digital archive of a pandemic ever created. In addition to archival resources, the site includes detailed histories of the epidemic as it played out in over 50 U.S. cities. As we approach the centennial of the influenza pandemic in 2018, we only expect more accolades, site visits, and use of this important historical resource.

The great value in having such a robust Internet-based resource is that we can continue to augment and develop it. We are currently at work creating an updated version of the influenza archive and encyclopedia. This latest version will add to our already large collection of materials by including the American medical and public health literature concerning the 1918 pandemic (c. 1918-1930) in a searchable and user-friendly manner. We are excited to see this rich resource continue to grow with the addition of more collections in the future.

As a core part of its mission, the Center routinely engages in educational programming. This past year, the Center has carried on that longstanding tradition in several ways. During the fall term of 2014, I taught, for the second time, a Literature and Medicine course for the English Department in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Primarily aimed at undergraduates, the course was highly acclaimed in the student evaluations and was an overwhelming success. It is a superb outreach vehicle both to our colleagues in the humanities as well as to undergraduate students preparing for medical careers.

In addition to undergraduate teaching, the Center also sponsors the University of Michigan Medical School’s Victor Vaughan Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine, a medical student-led organization dating back to 1929. As part of its work with the Victory Vaughan Society, the Center holds monthly lecture and discussion sessions for medical student members, with topics ranging from the history of early medicine in the ancient and medieval worlds to the modern social construction of disease. In January 2015, the Center will sponsor a public screening of Contagion at the historic Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor, with a question and answer session led by Dr. Martin Cetron, head of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. On Sunday, April 12 – the 50th anniversary of the announcement that the polio vaccine trials of early-1950s were a success – the Center will be sponsoring its annual Horace Davenport Lecture. The lecture will be held at the Ann Arbor District Library and will be open to the public. We are pleased to announce Professor David Oshinsky, historian at New York University and author of Polio: An American Story, as the speaker.

As a key part of our educational programming mission, and in collaboration with the newly developed U-M Institute for Health Policy and Innovation, the Center has begun planning for a national conference entitled “Vested Interests: Who Really Influences American Medicine, Public Health and Health Policy?” We will be inviting some of the best minds and speakers in the nation to participate, with topics ranging from Big Pharma to the food industry to conflicts of interest in clinical research. Dr. Richard Besser, chief medical correspondent for ABC News, has graciously agreed to deliver the keynote address. The conference is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2015.

Lastly, this has been a very productive year for me, personally. I have made great progress on my biography of John Harvey Kellogg, the physician, and his brother W.K. Kellogg, the cereal magnate. This book, tentatively entitled Corn Flakes: The Kellogg Brothers of Battle Creek, is my most ambitious scholarly book to date. Beyond telling the remarkable story of the Kellogg family, this book will be a sweeping history of American medicine between the Civil War and World War II.

In July of 2013, the Board of Directors of the Milbank Memorial Fund named me the editor-in-chief of The Milbank Quarterly, a position I formally began in October of 2013. Published for more than 80 years, theQuarterly features peer-reviewed, original research, health policy reviews and analysis from academics, clinicians, and policymakers. By basing the editorial operations of the Milbank Quarterly at the U-M Center for the History of Medicine, great possibilities in the scholarship produced at CHM have opened and are already occurring. It has also created a wonderful working partnership with the Milbank Memorial Fund, one of the oldest and most venerated endowed health foundations in the United States.

This past fall, the recent Ebola epidemic kept me very busy. I appeared on several television news programs, including PBS NewsHour and CNN/Sanjay Gupta, and was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, the BBC World Service, and numerous other broadcast outlets. In addition, I was interviewed and quoted on a great many newspapers and magazines, including the front page of the New York Times (October 19, 2014) and The New Yorker (Talk of the Town/Comment, November 10, 2014).

All of these scholarly endeavors, in addition to our other work, research, teaching, and public programming, have made the Center the leading, most widely published and best funded history of medicine unit in the nation, if not the world. We look forward to a productive 2015.

As always, if you have questions, suggestions or ideas on how to improve our mission and programs, I am only a phone call or email away!

Happy Holidays!





Howard Markel, MD, PhD

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