Tuesday, March 18, 2014

New And Noteworthy--Learning From The Wounded: The Civil War And The Rise of American Medical Science

Learning From The Wounded: The Civil War And The Rise of American Medical Science, Shauna Devine, University of North Carolina Press, 384 pages, 26 illustrations, 3 tables, appendices, bibliographic notes, index, $39.95 [March 2014]

Nearly two-thirds of the Civil War's approximately 750,000 fatalities were caused by disease--a staggering fact for which the American medical profession was profoundly unprepared. In the years before the war, training for physicians in the United States was mostly unregulated, and medical schools' access to cadavers for teaching purposes was highly restricted. Shauna Devine argues that in spite of these limitations, Union army physicians rose to the challenges of the war, undertaking methods of study and experimentation that would have a lasting influence on the scientific practice of medicine.
Though the war's human toll was tragic, conducting postmortems on the dead and caring for the wounded gave physicians ample opportunity to study and develop new methods of treatment and analysis, from dissection and microscopy to new research into infectious disease processes. Examining the work of doctors who served in the Union Medical Department, Devine sheds new light on how their innovations in the midst of crisis transformed northern medical education and gave rise to the healing power of modern health science.

Shauna Devine is visiting research fellow in the department of the history of medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University.

Early Reviews

"An important contribution to the history of medicine in the United States. Devine does a remarkable job of showing how wartime experience catalyzed and reconfigured the evolution of American medicine along scientific lines, stimulating vastly increased attention to pathological investigation, experimentation, specialization, and probing of the nature of disease. She argues convincingly that the war gave American physicians enormous opportunities to do work on native ground that only small numbers of them had previously been able to observe in European centers."

--Michael Bliss, author of William Osler: A Life in Medicine and Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery

"Transforming three generations of scholarship, this book changes the story of the development of the American medical profession. Rather than depending on the magisterial but opinionated Medical & Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Shauna Devine returns to the manuscript reports of the period and asks the simple question, What did the doctor do during the Civil War? She finds over ten thousand doctors dissecting--because they were ordered to, because the bodies were available during the war, and because the Army taught them how. Others went beyond anatomic pathology to do physiologic and clinical experiments. They all went home to shape an American medical science, preparing the social, political and scientific ground for the next generation of European apostles. This is the most exciting book in nineteenth-century American medical history in the last fifteen years."

--Dale C. Smith, Ph.D., Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

"Learning from the Wounded is more than a path-breaking study of how the American Civil War transformed American medicine and medical research. It opens a wide window onto the individual and institutional players who shaped this transformation, giving the overall story the sustained and in-depth attention it has long deserved as part of, and not apart from, the broader history of the Civil War. With this artful and engrossing achievement, Shauna Devine makes an important contribution to the field that deserves to be read by anyone who is interested in the relationship between war and society and especially in the context of medicine and science."

--Jeffrey S. Reznick, author of Healing the Nation: Soldiers and the Culture of Caregiving in Britain during the Great War and John Galsworthy and Disabled Soldiers of the Great War: With an Illustrated Selection of his Writings

Text Source:  University of North Carolina Press

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