Meredith Gozo, Curator [Photo: David Kramer, 2/21/20]
Spending time at the University of Rochester means feasting on an ever replenished smorgasbord of historical, philosophical, literary, auditory and visual delights found in reading rooms, libraries, lobbies, museums, theaters, auditoriums and in an alcove atop the Rush Rhees building. (SEE AT END). The current exhibit in the George W. Corner Reading Room at the School of Medicine is no exception.Recently at the Miner Library in the URMC, I came across an attractively-installed and well-selected display of 18th and 19th century philosophical treatises, a medical text and a biography. Throughout the works, black people are represented as animal-like and physically and mentally inferior specimens sometimes fit for medical experimentation. Intrigued and dismayed, to learn more I turned to Meredith Gozo, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts of the History of Medicine Collection. Recently transplanted from Indiana, Meredith’s enthusiasm for her work and new academic community shone. Meredith doesn’t even mind Rochester winters. Really. In comparison to Chicago where she lived for several years, the city of Rochester seems to clear snow very efficiently.
This exhibit is a reflection on 18th-19th century conceptions of the black body as spread in print by white physicians of the period. Believe it or not, these ideas have had a bearing on our modern mindset: while the statements in these books seem utterly ridiculous now, recent studies have shown that some of these notions, particularly those about black people’s higher tolerance of pain, persist today. This way of thinking has real consequences when it comes to the kind of healthcare people receive, which is sometimes discriminatory because modern medical practice is informed by racial biases that have their roots in these old, but once “authoritative,” texts.
In the future I’d like to do an exhibit that reflects on the contributions of black physicians and staff throughout the history of the Med Center, but there’s an unfortunate lack of representation of this history in the Med Center archives. As a new person on staff who still has quite a lot to learn about our holdings, I don’t know if those materials are buried or absent—but it’s a priority of mine to bring those stories to light.
Merdith also showed me two photographs she found when exploring the archives of interest to local movie buffs: Peta Lindstrom and Ingrid Bergman and daughter Pia when Lindstrom was a UR medical student in the 1940’s.