Technology and Medicine in Modern America
ELDER, RACHEL A
Medicine as it exists in contemporary America is profoundly technological. We regard it as perfectly normal to be examined with instruments, to expose ourselves to machines, and to place trust in the information that such devices and systems produce, interpret, and store about our bodies. We are billed technologically, prompted to attend appointments technologically, and often buy technologies to protect, diagnose, or improve our health. Take, for example, air-purifiers, heart rate monitors, pregnancy testing kits, and digital thermometers. Yet even at the beginning of the twentieth century, medical technologies were scarce and infrequently used by physicians and consumers alike. In this course, we examine how technology came to occupy medicine’s center-stage. Combining the perspectives of historians, sociologists, and anthropologists, we consider how technologies have changed medical knowledge and practice, mediated gender, race, and class relationships, and what it means that these changes have been mostly taken for granted in modern America.
Course Summary: The Summer 2013 iteration of HSOC 162 will operate as both a reading and original research seminar. Discussion of weekly readings will provide students with the grounding necessary to critically analyze medicine and technology. Students will mobilize this knowledge as they work towards a major final project. Through interactive seminars and research appointments at the Mutter Museum and affiliated College of Physicians of Philadelphia, students will be asked to produce the materials for an exhibit on a medical technology or instrument of their choosing. Students will thus gain hands-on experience with the material culture and protocols of a museum, opportunity to conduct original archival research and object analysis, as well as training in the fields of technology studies and public history. Evaluation for this course will be based upon student participation in all seminars and discussion of weekly readings (30%), a short reading response and leading of class discussion (15%), as well the final museum project, evaluated in sections over the course of the semester (55%). Attendance and participation in each class and all off-site seminars (scheduled during class time) will be essential to success in this course. Syllabus forthcoming.