The practice of modern medicine has taken many of its lessons from the past. In Shauna Devine's, PhD, brand new book, Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science, she sheds new light on how the American Civil War, now 150 years in our past, helped to shape northern medical education and gave rise to the healing power of modern health science.
“What I really wanted to show in this book was how the medical experience of the American Civil War led to superior medical practices in North America,” said Devine, a visiting research fellow in the department of the history of medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “I looked at the doctors themselves and how their understanding of disease, some of which they had read about but never seen, was transformed through wartime.”
Devine’s book shows how prior to the war physicians believed that disease rested inside the body and was brought out by breathing in “bad air.” During the war, nearly two-thirds of the approximately 750,000 fatalities were caused by disease, and physicians began to see that a strong, healthy, robust individual could be exposed to germs and disease that were transmitted through things like sponges and medical devices.
In this way they started to recognize that disease was a separate entity that resides outside of the individual. This new knowledge helped to shape the way that disease was managed and because of this new understanding practices like disinfection became policy.
“I would have to argue that if there had never been a Civil War, this all would have happened but it would have taken a lot longer,” Devine said.
The book, which hit the shelves on March 17, 2014, is Devine’s first and is the result of seven years of hard work and research. The book began when she was completing her PhD at Western University and she credits much of her success to her colleagues and mentors both in the Department of History and at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
To learn more, or to purchase a copy of the book, click here.