Author Archive

Feb

18

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Look at this lil pupper!

Think it’s easy to distinguish between what people say about animals and what people say about other people? Think again.

Take the quiz here!

Feb

6

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where i imagine poe’s story taking place

Cholera, fungus, and goths? In today’s installment of Bwog Science, staff writer Riya Mirchandaney writes about last night’s lecture, “The Medical Imagination in the Early United States,” part of the Explorations in the Medical Humanities Series hosted by the Heyman Center for the Humanities.

“Science does not know its debt to imagination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1872

What I thought would be a broad and heartwarming discussion on the importance of the imagination in medicine ended up being a long and stressfully intimate—but fascinating—talk about the enigmatic nature of fungi. Yes, you read that right—to quote Cosmo Kramer, fungi.

Sari Altschuler, assistant professor of English at Northeastern and scholar of American literature and culture before 1865, used this talk (sponsored by the Heyman Center for the Humanities) to preview her upcoming book, The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States, a multidisciplinary work tracing the intersections of medical history and literary history.

She began by talking about cholera. Believed to be endemic to India, cholera eventually made its way to North America in the 1820s. Cholera didn’t seem contagious, yet spread rapidly, confounding all public health officials. Medical cartography, which mapped the instances and spread of the choleric miasma, proved ineffective for understanding the disease’s nature. Mysterious and deadly, cholera presented the perfect conundrum for the medically imaginative.

Introducing: gothic medicine. The gothiest of goths, Edgar Allan Poe, along with his physician-poet friend John Kearsley Mitchell, both of whom were thoroughly affected by the cholera outbreak (Mitchell himself nearly died from it), took to writing to interpret and convey the situation.

Read how Poe and Mitchell used literature to change modern perceptions of cholera

Jan

30

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Directed by a Columbia alum!

The Heyman Center for the Humanities is hosting “Explorations in the Medical Humanities,” a series of talks, films, and events that strive to bridge medicine and the humanities. Yesterday, Bwog sent writer Riya Mirchandaney to “Swim Team,” a film about an award-winning swim team consisting of boys on the autism spectrum. Here’s her review of the film.

As someone who loves the humanities, it’s obvious that the science event I’d chose to attend would be a film screening. If I learned anything from watching “The Great Sperm Race” in junior year biology, it’s that movies are a fantastic vessel for disseminating (ha, ha) scientific information in a thoughtful and accessible way. Who wants to listen to a dreary lecture when they could learn just as much from sleekly-edited video montages and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s sultry voice?

But “Swim Team,” the award-winning first feature-length documentary by Columbia alum Lara Stolman, strangely lacking in lab coats and medical terminology, was a science documentary of a completely different breed. It was shown as part of the Medical Humanities series sponsored by the Heyman Center for the Humanities.

The film begins with an extended underwater shot. A boy swimming. The swim captain encouraging his teammates. The coaches—the mother and father of one of the swimmers—introduce the scene: this is a special olympics team, and all of the boys are on the autism spectrum. They are the New Jersey Hammerheads.

As defined by the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as by restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, often accompanied by intellectual and language impairment. In New Jersey, with the highest rate in the country, 1 out of every 26 boys is diagnosed with autism.

Click here to learn more about the film and about the medical humanities

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