Medical History Weekend at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum

To kick-start this medical history weekend, I attended a writing medical history masterclass at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum. It was a day filled with reinforcing and refreshing my writing skills as well as learning new techniques. The participants at this workshop were a diverse group ranging from museum professionals to medical practitioners. In saying this, we were all connected by an interest in writing the history of medicine. This sort of collaborative environment is exactly what I think the discipline needs.

We started with a discussion by Dr Paula Michaels from Monash University on researching history. As part of this session we looked at source material from the 1950s on anxiety and childbirth. Basically the material consisted of a series of case studies compiled by psychiatrists who were looking for signs of anxiety during pregnancy and after birth. In pairs, we discussed what was the perception of anxiety during this time period, and what was the nature of the evidence. In our group, we focused on how what would today be termed quite natural and normal anxiety was exaggerated in the study. The voices of the women were taken out of context and evaluated with obvious judgment. Of course, it is important to remember the context in which these sources were composed. Nevertheless, the sources revealed a considerable amount of information on issues such as race, class, and gender. During the exercise, we were encouraged to read the source material in depth, pretending we were on a desert island and this was all we had available to use in an article. This kind of challenge yielded some fantastic discussions on both the opportunities and limitations raised by the material.

The session after lunch on writing history was surprisingly beneficial. I say this because I only recently completed an undergraduate course in history and have listened to so many “this is how you write an essay” talks. What stood out to me, was that this specific discussion focused on writing introductions. Michaels went through how to write a captivating introduction and what should be included. I have never really thought in depth before about writing my introductions – it has just been something that needs to be done. With a couple of essays left for my degree, I think it will be interesting to try and implement some of her points.

The final session of the day was spent discussing individual projects. I raised the issue of my internship essay and how I have no idea how to narrow down my topic. My group, including the wonderful Monica Cronin, provided me with some interesting ideas to consider. I would love the opportunity to workshop essay questions and answers in our course. It allows you to think of the topic from a number of different perspectives. Especially in this case where I had historians and doctors advising me on what they might consider writing if they were in my situation.

Overall, I am very glad to have made the journey to Melbourne for this workshop! It was a great way to refine my medical history research and writing skills. Tomorrow the medical history weekend enters day two as I am helping to run a World Anaesthesia Day Seminar at the Harry Daly Museum/Richard Bailey Library. It will be my first event as curator and I am both very excited and very nervous.

I will be live tweeting the event. If you’re interested, here is a link to my twitter:

Geoffrey Kaye Exhibition: From Snake Oil to Science

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