What’s So Now About History?

The following blog post was written by Lucy Vorobej, summer 2013 Public Program Assistant. 

My initial interaction with medical history at the Museum of Health Care was a gruesome and gory encounter as I imagined past medical realities of surgery without anesthesia and those oh-so-unnerving humour-balancing blood-sucking leeches (eek!). However, despite the occasional queasiness induced by this topic, I found myself diving in headfirst.

Medical history proved to be a fascinating area of study as my coworker  Julia Blakey and I learned the Museum’s scripts and program material in order to share it with a wide range of people—camps, school groups, the young and old alike. Beyond program presentation we also had the chance to develop our own programming. From talking about the merits of phlegm to imagining medieval medicine, it was exciting to teach children about history in a fun, interactive way.

Lucy (left) and Julia (right), summer 2013 Public Program Assistants
Lucy (left) and Julia (right), summer 2013 Public Program Assistants

When I reflected on my summer at the Museum, beyond finding medical history interesting, I was also reminded of the ways in which it is important. Far from being ‘old news’ my experience has confirmed my belief in the contemporary value of knowing and learning from the past.

When Julia and I created the summer program “Outbreak: Diseases throughout History,” we not only focused on the diseases themselves but also on the ways in which people and communities historically responded to epidemics.  In studying this history, we outlined for ourselves and participants, contrasts and similarities to today’s practices, especially in seeing trends in communities’ social responses to the sick.

Lucy during "Outbreak: Diseases Throughout History," an education program she co-created
Lucy during “Outbreak: Diseases Throughout History,” an education program she co-created

Young children, along with the adults who accompanied them, were able to engage with the past and in the process discover its contemporary relevance. When designing a youth workshop, a lesson in history became the platform from which participants could begin to challenge contemporary stigma around people who experience mental illness. In this way, history proved to be an important remedy to a present-day concern.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to work at the Museum of Health Care this summer. I am certain I will take the knowledge, capabilities and friends I have gained here with me into my future endeavours. When it comes to studying medical history it seems I’ve caught the bug!

Lucy Vorobej is a recent graduate of History at Queen’s and will be returning to Queen’s in the fall for Teacher’s College. In the future she hopes to pursue further study in the History of Medicine.

The Museum of Health Care would like to thank Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, Hannah Chair, History of Medicine, Queen’s University for supervising Julia and Lucy, and the Queen’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP) for their support in the creation of these positions!

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