Book/Exhibit/Media Reviews

Book Review: Sounds of Modern History: Auditory Cultures in 19th and 20th Century Europe
Edited by Daniel Morat (Berghahn Books, 2014)


Sounds have become so ubiquitous to daily living that it seems only in the absence or abundance of it are we aware of its presence. Since the 1990s, there’s been a tremendous growth in studies examining the presence of sound, and how we listen and respond to aurality, as part of a larger trend towards the history of senses, where visual history remains dominant.

Sounds of Modern History embarks on a path to explore what roles sound and aurality play in the coming of modernity. Read the rest of the review…


Book  Review: Anna Shepherd, Institutionalizing the Insane in Nineteenth-Century England (Pickering & Chatto, 2014).

Anna Shepard

On a prime 150 acre site in Surrey at Woking, Brookwood Asylum opened its doors on June 17, 1867. Established by the Metropolitan Asylums Board, it was the second public county asylum at Wocking, created to deal with the overflow of patients from the first Surrey County Asylum, Springfield (est. 1841). Eighteen years later and ten miles away, in another month of June, the Holloway Sanatorium invited the middle-class to its resort for rest and recovery from a variety of mental ills. Set up by private bequest, Holloway was designed to cater exclusively to the middle-class insane; it even relied on fees from wealthy patients to subsidize less affluent patients who were still considered “deserving” of assistance. Read the rest of the review…


Exhibit Review: “Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century,” Bata Shoe Museum

fashion victims

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto is one of my favourite places to visit whenever I find myself craving inspiration. Also, the shoes. I love shoes. Last year, the museum launched a new exhibit titled Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century and since then, I’ve been meaning to drop by the museum to check it out. I managed to make some time.

This particular exhibit interested me not just for the fashion, but because of it’s take on what it meant to be a “fashion victim.” Read Review…


Book Review: Jerome E. Bickenbach, Franziska Felder, and Barbara Schmitz (Eds.), Disability and the Good Human Life (Cambridge University Press, 2014).


“What constitutes the good human life? This is one of philosophy’s oldest questions, employed towards dialogues of moral obligation, civic virtue, distribution of happiness, as well as issues of social policy and human rights. Historically, the topic of disability has scarcely been touched by philosophers. Where discussed, having a severe disability was presented as justification for euthanasia and as evidence for applying bioethical grounds for selective abortion or limiting the moral status of disabled persons. Assumptions that all serious or severe impairment harms the good life contradicts with a growing body of evidence that persons with disabilities rate their well-being on positive terms, revealing that disability is a complex and interactive phenomenon that cannot be evaluated on the impairments alone. So how do we evaluate the balance between subjective well-being and objective harm as decrements to the good human life?”

Read the rest of my review over on the Centre for Medical Humanities Blog 


Exhibit Review: Vesalius at 500, Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto


“With de Fabrica, Vesalius introduced a number of important changes in the study of anatomy, including the notion that students must not depend their learning from authoritative textbooks, or even their teachers. Rather, Vesalius advocated the humanist doctrine to see for oneself: students should see and understand anatomy by looking and investigating the bodies themselves. Truth could be found under the skin, not in the books…” Read Review 


Media Review: Cinemax’s The Knick



“I’m utterly fascinated with the surgical operating theater and how it evolved from a simple room with minor equipment to a packed theatre stage, and eventually to the sterile and spacious environment of modern operating rooms. The transformation of the operating theatre mirrors many tremendous advancements in the surgery during the twentieth century, as surgeons became more skilled and innovative as they mastered complicated and dangerous procedures. It’s no surprise then that I was completely riveted by Cinemax’s new television series, The Knick, directed by Steven Soderbergh, written  by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and starting Clive Owen…” Read Review


Exhibit Review: Sultans of Science: 1000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered, Ontario Science Centre


“This remarkable machine is the work of al-Shaykh Ra’is al-Amal  Badi’ al-Zaman abu-‘Izz Isma’il ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari (1136-1206), a Muslim engineer who lived north of Baghdad under the Ayyubid Dynasty. He was named after his birthplace, Al-Jazari, a region in northern Syria and Iraq between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia; he lived most of his life in Diya Bikr in Upper Mesopotamia (now Southern Turkey). Approximately between 1174 and 1200, al-Jazari severed as the mechanical engineer to the Artuqid kings of Diya Bakir…” Read Review


Book Review: Michael Brown, Performing Medicine; Medical Culture and Identity in Provincial England, c.1760-1850 (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2011), 254pp.

“Being a “doctor,” Brown suggests, is not a timeless constraint, but rather a fluid, and somewhat discontinuous identity that was defined by the identities of practitioners, their interactions with the public and new techniques for medicine and surgery—and perhaps more importantly, the identity was defined by how practitioners wanted themselves to be defined. Engaging with two dominant historiographical traditions—the “medical marketplace” model and the “professionalization” of medicine—Brown explores developments and transformations within medical culture, identity, and performance…” Read Review


Book Review: Stephen Bocking, Ecologists and Environmental Politics: A History of Contemporary Ecology (Yale University Press, 1997).

“Through his case studies—the Nature Conservancy, Oak Ridge Laboratory, the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, and the Ontario Fisheries Research Laboratory—Bocking provides not only a history of the growth of an institution, but also the way in which ecology itself was transformed with the institutions’ growth. Research agendas, funding sources, and political issues all played a central role in developing the field of ecology…” Read Review


Book Review: Janet Browne, “Charles Darwin: Voyaging” (1995)

“Like other biographies that followed the centenary of Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, Browne combines biography and cultural history to weave a profile of Darwin within the ethos of Victorian England; she even states that her book might as well been called Darwin: Another Biography. Drawing upon her work with the Darwin correspondence, including rare archival material, Browne constructs a collective biography that merges the social, intellectual, and political networks of the Victorian scientific community, and Darwin’s place in it. This biography does more than just outline the development of Darwin’s scientific ideas and the resulting fame…” Read Review


University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection

The Galvanometer Case, "Toronto Electrical Exhibition!"

“Since the late 1970s, attempts have been made to organize a university-wide collection at the University of Toronto. To date, many of these attempts have either passed or failed over time. As a result, while certain instruments are very well displayed and cared for within particular departments, others are all but forgotten and very poorly stored. Sadly, many have been discarded or lost over the years.” Read Review 


Deafness in Disguise Exhibit


“Much historical relevance can be retrieved from a closer examination of an instrument beyond its life history, and further, the instrument itself can provide analytical evidence for the social contexts surrounding its historical period…Launched in 2002, the Deafness in Disguise exhibit was originally a collaborative project between Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) and the Washington University School of Medicine Bernard Becker Medical Library. The exhibit consists of hearing devices, archival material, and rare books from each of the collection, and much of the devices are now…” Read Review

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