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History of Medicine Events

Every year the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health hosts a series of public lectures in the history of medicine. Lectures usually begin at 6:00 p.m. and are free of charge and open to the public. Advance registration is requested but not required.

From time to time, the Center mounts festivals and holds workshops, where an admission fee may be charged and registration is required.

For further information about medical history programs at NYAM, please call Associate Director Paul Theerman at 212-822-7350 or email


April 28, 2015 • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

How do plants become pharmaceuticals? In this talk, Abena Dove Osseo-Asare will examine the history of efforts to patent a treatment for malaria made from the bitter roots of fever vine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta). The talk is drawn from her book, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa.

May 4, 2015 • 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Florence Nightingale is undoubtedly the most famous of all British nurses. But on the other side of the Atlantic stands Linda Richards, as influential although perhaps less well-known than her illustrious mentor. In this talk Natasha McEnroe of the Florence Nightingale Museum will examine both the connections and the differences between the two women, who together laid the foundations of modern nursing across the world.

September 9, 2015 • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

Until the mid-nineteenth century, life expectancy at birth averaged 20 years worldwide, owing mostly to childhood fevers. The source of such illness was a topic of great debate. In a wide-ranging talk, eminent researcher Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova of the Rockefeller University presents the history of both the germ theory and the emerging genetic theory of infectious diseases.

October 8, 2015 • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

In his famous Quintet of Modern Diseases, Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi, the Chief Physician to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648–1687), claimed that by far the most prevalent disease in Istanbul was hypochondria. He believed that it was a distinctly modern disease that afflicted mostly intellectuals. This talk by historian B. Harun Küçük of the University of Pennsylvania will piece together the cultural history of hypochondria in Istanbul and its immediate surroundings, using Ottoman and European medical and travel literature.

October 29, 2015 • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

Frederick Douglass Opie, author of Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food: Recipes, Remedies and Simple Pleasures, will speak on Zora Neale Hurston’s work on food-based prescriptions for illnesses. Hurston's writings reveal an interest in natural prescriptions for the health challenges suffered by camp workers and plantation laborers. She also talks a great deal about natural remedies for poisoning. She incorporated what she learned about poisoning and natural remedies into her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and other writings. 

November 19, 2015 • 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

In the days before modern transport, preservation, and production technology, all chickens were local and free-range, and it was difficult to escape the constraints imposed by distance and the seasons. Difficult, but not impossible, as elite dining was defined by the challenge in obtaining ingredients, from hothouse peaches in the north in winter, to ice cream in Syria in the summer. In this talk, historian Dr. Paul Freedman of Yale University focuses on dining through the seasons.

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