Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine

In 1929, a group of medical students approached the Chair of Medicine, Dr. Cyrus Sturgis, with an idea to launch a student-led organization dedicated to the extracurricular study of the history of medicine.  With Dr. Sturgis’s assistance, these students established the Victor Vaughan Student Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine, named for the long-serving dean of the Medical School.

For the next fifty years, members were invited from the senior class.  During the Society’s first decades, students and faculty mentors presented lengthy papers at the monthly meetings, all preserved in bound volumes now housed in the University library. The format changed in 1980 to include presentations by students or faculty members interested in the history of medicine.  The monthly meetings have included student papers, invited speakers, and sessions on literature and medicine. Members have visited the Medical Rare Book Room at the Taubman Health Sciences Library, the Bentley Historical Library, the William L. Clements Library, and other campus locations rich in medical history.

In 2003 the society found a permanent home at the Center for the History of Medicine, which is located in the historic Simpson Memorial Institute on Observatory Street. The first director of the Simpson Institute was Dr. Cyrus Sturgis, whose named library is located on the first floor of the Simpson building, so history and the Society truly have come full circle.

In 2019, several student members expressed concern over the name of the Society.  In particular, students were uncomfortable with Victor Vaughan’s support of eugenics and his role as president of the Michigan State Board of Health and his support for the state’s 1913 forced sterilization law.  In response, a meeting of the Society was convened to discuss changing the name of the organization.  Members voted, and the name was changed to the Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine.

All students, faculty, residents, and others interested in the history of medicine are welcome to attend the monthly meetings. Dr. Howard Markel is the faculty advisor, and Reni Forer is the student co-president for the 2021-2022 academic year. For more information, contact the Center at 734-647-6914, or e-mail Reni at

Upcoming Meetings for the Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine

January 31, 2022

Title:  “Critical self-awareness:  Ethnobotany’s trajectory from exploration to exploitation of plants, places, and cultures in colonial and contemporary frameworks and where we go from here.”

Speaker: Dr. David Michener, Curator, and Academics, Curation & Research Administrative Lead, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum


Passcode:  751975

Time: Noon – 1:00pm



February 14, 2022

Title: “How the Clinic Made Gender: The Transformation of Sex om 1950’s American Biomedicine.”

Speaker: Sandra Eder, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley


Passcode:  218035

Time: Noon  – 1:00pm

March 8, 2022

Title:  “How the Arts can Make You a Better Physician”

Speaker: Dr. Joel Howell, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Department of History, and Department of Health Management and Policy


Passcode:  029102

Time: Noon – 1:00pm

April 11, 2022


Title: TBA

Speaker:  Arline Geronimus, Professor, Health Behavior & Health Education

Virtual: TBA

Time: TBA

May 23, 2022

Title:  “The Limits of Good Intentions: Historical Perspectives on Past Efforts to Address Racism in Psychiatry.”

Speaker:  Dr. Laura Hirshbein, Psychiatry


Passcode:  869013

Time: Noon – 1:00pm

June, 2022

Title:  TBD

Speaker:  TBD

Time:  TBD

July, 2022

Title:  TBD

Speaker:  TBD

Time:  TBD


August 17, 2022 (Tentative)

Title:  “The Art and Science of the Human Body in the European Renaissance: A Brief Introduction.”

Speaker:  Pablo Alvarez, Ph.D., Curator, Special Collections Research Center at the University of Michigan Library

Virtual:  TBD

Passcode:  TBD

Time:  Noon – 1:00pm