Creating a Vernacular Archive for the History of Medicine: Science & the Subject’s Perspective

About the Project

This Dean’s Fellowship project developed a digital archive in the history of medicine based on unprecedented historical materials. Between 1954 and 1995, healthy American citizens volunteered to serve as “guinea pigs” in medical experiments at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Since 2010, MHS Professor Laura Stark has collected more than 100 oral histories, as well as photographs, letters, diaries, and other memorabilia of the period, from the former “normal control” research subjects; the NIH scientists who experimented with them; and the staff members of the organizations that coordinated the moves of their parishioners, students, beneficiaries, and wards to the Clinical Center. These historical materials 1. document the experiences and worldviews of research participants, 2. illuminate the broader context of clinical medicine, and 3. demonstrate the connections of the field of medicine to religion, higher education, organized labor, and the judicial system in postwar America.

The aim of the Dean’s Fellow project was to preserve and to make publicly available this important vernacular archive in order to promote scholarly research, data-sharing, and public history. Over the course of two semesters, the Dean’s Fellow helped make the materials discoverable in a digital repository, produced a website to orient users to the materials, served as a data-sharing liaison with institutions outside of Vanderbilt, and completed a pilot network analysis of the material.

Jenifer Dodd

About the Fellow

Jenifer Dodd is a Ph.D. candidate in Vanderbilt's History department. She studies twentieth century U.S. cultural history, with specializations in women’s and gender studies and the history of psychiatry. Her dissertation examines attempts by feminists and psychiatrists to redefine sexual assault in the 1980s; the project argues that sexual violence and its definitions became a site where ideas about gender, socialization and mental illness were debated and ultimately transformed. More broadly, the project looks at the process of change in psychiatric thought and its institutional manifestation, as well as the interconnections between psychiatry, popular culture, and the law. Her research is supported by the Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. Jenifer has also done research on the role of psychedelic drugs in shaping psychiatric thought in the 1960s and 1970s. This work examines the use of these drugs in attempts to re-frame schizophrenia as a perceptual disorder. More broadly, this research looks at theories of the mind that emphasize the continuity between pathology and normality.


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