For the LOVE of Medical History

For our final #MuseumWeek post we’re talking about why we LOVE medical history and why we hope that love is contagious! #loveMW


It’s not uncommon for the Dittrick Medical History Center to be referred to a bit like a cabinet of curiosities,  a niche museum, or perhaps more kindly, a “hidden treasure.” Although we’ve always worked to make collections accessible and major public engagement efforts are underway, we still often have to make the case for the (sometimes not so) implicit question “Why should I care about medical history?”

The answer tends to go a little like this:

Medical history is the history of how we come into the world. Our Re-conceiving Birth gallery is not only about doctors, nurses, and midwives — it examines the experiences of women and babies from the 18th century to the 1940s. Beyond the particular questions of labor position, pregnancy diet, and types of forceps, this gallery calls visitors’ attention to larger, still pertinent questions: Is birth a normal or pathological event? Who’s experiences and knowledge are important during labor? Should birth hurt? How are difficult decisions made when both the mother and infant are at risk?

By framing these questions through history, we hope to add to modern debates that these are not new concerns and that “traditional” approaches are not singular or homogenous.

Medical history is the history of how we change and respond to our environments. Humans have faced a range of emerging health concerns through travel to new places, movement into cities, changing diets, and exposure to industrial hazards. Many of the museum’s exhibits examine both the impact of these shifts, such as crowded city-dwelling facilitating the transmission of infectious diseases, and how we respond to these novel health environments. For example, Cleveland was racked by a deadly and disfiguring smallpox epidemic in 1901 and 1902, which was halted through a coordination of efforts to develop and widely distribute a safe vaccine.

These stories speak to the dynamic relationship between humans and their environment and cautions against assumptions that medical progress has eliminated any risk of new health challenges.

Medical history is the history of how we manage pain and suffering. When visitors arrive at the museum, they are greeted with display cases that detail “If you were sick in…” various years throughout history. These exhibits contextualize both the conditions and therapeutics Americans encountered in 1810, 1860, and 1910 including purgatives and emetics of humoral medicine and the sanitizing devises and techniques developed under germ theory. The types of surgeries, pharmaceuticals, and instruments used by practitioners and the popular advertisements for health restoring or ensuring products reveal the way the body and illnesses are understood.

Conceptions of the body and what it means to be healthy are not static, but reflect contemporary challenges and concerns. For example, medicine during WWI developed ways to address mass trauma in the form of gunshot, shrapnel and shell wounds and fractures through pain-free, sterile surgeries that prevented patient shock and hemorrhage. Meanwhile, home front practitioners sought to ensure the continued well-being of citizens living under rations. We’re taking a closer look at these wartime public policies and their attempts to ensure health on April 7th.

Medical history is the history of how we mediate sexual relations and family size. The museum prominently features the Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception, the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical contraception artifacts. This space provides a chronological look at the way fertility has been understood and managed, starting with early texts like the 17th century Aristotle’s Masterpiece, through the 19th century Comstock Laws, the development of the birth control pill, to modern contraceptive devices. Controlling fertility is not a modern pursuit, but has been shaped through history by contemporary social and cultural values regarding family size, appropriate sexual behavior, and the alignment (or not) between biomedicine and popular beliefs about reproduction.

Today’s discussions about access to fertility controlling pharmaceuticals and procedures is part of a longer history of politicized decisions about what is best for certain bodies and for the general public at large. The gallery highlights that “best medical practices” have been occasionally overruled by social pressures against contraception, as well as how a lack of oversight in the development and use of some contraceptive technologies lead to suffering or death of unprotected citizens.

Medical history is the history of how and why we die. Even the way death is depicted — as a failure of medical treatment or an inevitable end — is shaped by the unique historical ways health has been understood. For example, diphtheria, once a deadly disease for children in the late 19th century, became both relatively treatable and preventable within a few decades through use of diphtheria antitoxin and large-scale immunization efforts.

Other exhibits tell about the detective-like work of medical practitioners in discovering the causes of death. For example, development of the stethoscope allowed physicians to hear inside the body, however what they heard was not immediately clear. Doctors used the stethoscope to listen to ill patients’ breathing and heartbeats in the early 19th century and attempted to treat their conditions. When the patients almost invariably died from their diseases, the practitioners conducted post-mortem  examinations to match the sound they’d heard with internal abnormalities. The Blaufox Hall of Diagnostic Instruments illustrates how this process led to an improved ability to diagnose pathologies in living patients while providing directed treatment for their particular needs. Understanding why and how we die improves how we interpret our bodily experiences into symptoms and causes for concern.

Our forensics collections offer a different way of understanding causes of death. New methods to detect poisons or cause of death not only reveal how our bodies function, but also speak to larger stories about personal relationships and the integration of science into courts of law.

Basically, medical history is the history of people. Through a shared focus on the biological, environmental, and social aspects of people’s lives, engaging with medical history not only allows for a more nuanced perspective on how people have lived, but tells us something about the diversity of challenges and responses that await us.

 

Architecture! Designing for Health in the Early 20th Century

It’s #MuseumWeek, where museums around the world take to Twitter in a behind-the-scenes look at collections! Today’s theme is architecture. Follow us here on the blog, on Twitter and on Instagram all week to keep up with each event! #architectureMW

Rapid population growth and industrialization at the turn of the 20th century meant many Clevelanders faced a variety of health concerns associated with urban living. With large numbers of the city’s workers employed in factories, industrial accidents and occupational hazards from chronic exposure to toxic substances like lead or mercury increased at alarming rates. In recognition of these workplace dangers, many local factory owners implemented safety protocols (like not eating lunch at your lead smelting station), mandated medical check-ups, and redesigned workplaces to facilitate airflow and increase light to reduce industrial.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Willard Storage Battery Company received accolades from public health researchers who considered its functional architecture — a series of long buildings to increase the number of windows in each workspace — a successful way to eliminate hazardous materials while limiting the numbers of employees exposed to dangerous lead-processing areas. Although images of the factory from 1923 may trouble modern sensitivities regarding OSHA requirements, these architectural details assisted in decreasing negative health events, while improving worker retention, and productivity.

The starting and lighting battery
The architectural design of the Willard Storage Battery improved airflow, available light, and reduced exposure to occupational hazards. 1923.
lead smelter
Lead smelters in the Willard Storage Battery Co. of Cleveland, OH. 1923.

Hospitals also adopted architectural features thought to promote health and limit disease spread. In keeping with conventional wisdom of the benefits of fresh air, Lakeside Hospital featured both public verandas facing the lake for charity patients and private solariums for paying patients. While domestic touches adorned private rooms, architects designed operating rooms and clinical spaces for utilitarian purposes — namely, maintaining a well-lit, aseptic environment.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These hygienic architectural details became available consumer products for middle class Clevelanders seeking to make their homes both modern and sanitary. Through an integration of public health findings with design, the much local architecture reflects historic attempts to reduce illness and improve wellbeing.

The People Behind (and in) the Museum

It’s #MuseumWeek, where museums around the world take to Twitter in a behind-the-scenes look at collections! Today’s theme is people. Follow us here on the blog, on Twitter and on Instagram all week to keep up with each event! #peopleMW

Skull Specimen
A toothless male skull featured in a case of 19th century surgical instruments. Gift of Charles A. Muncaster, 1968.

Although the Dittrick Museum’s collections primarily focus on medical tools and  artifacts, a close look around the galleries reveals a few human specimens ever ready to greet visitors with perpetual (and sometimes toothless) smiles. Like the surgical sets and pharmaceuticals they’re featured next to, these specimens were also tools — tools used to teach students about the human body.

Dissection Dittrick
Class Portrait from Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930

Our collections include many historic images of medical students engaged in dissection, often with each trainee’s name inscribed on the photo. Meanwhile, the identities of the cadavers, like our featured human specimens, remain unknown. Little information is available to answer questions such as: Who were these people? Why did they become objects of anatomical study?

For example, the young male skeleton featured in our period doctor’s office came from Dr. Charles A. Muncaster, a graduate of the Western Reserve School of Medicine, class of 1919. He had acquired the specimen during his studies in 1915, a time when an articulated skeleton sold for $45 to $75. Advertisements for osteological specimens offered no details about the source of their materials, only the quality of the articulation.

1915 Osteological Speciments.jpg
Osteological Preparations from Halsam & Co. Catalog  (1915).

In 1968, besides the two human specimens shown above, Muncaster donated his complete obstetrical bag, providing a snap-shot of early 20th century physician-assisted childbirth.  Like Dr. Muncaster, the museum’s collections have been greatly enriched by generous patrons’ donations of their professional tools. The artifacts tell not only the stories of individual practitioners, but also of patients, education and historical understandings of health and the body.

Muncaster OB Bag
Obstetrical Bag and Artifacts, c. 1920. Gift of Charles A. Muncaster, 1968.

Mosquito or Man — “Steadily or Surely Conquered”

With the recent global attention on the Zika virus (we won’t say emergence, as Zika virus itself is not new), public health programs focused on controlling the mosquito vector enter a debate with its own long and storied past.

Pick up any early 20th century book on infectious disease management and you’ll find confident statements assuring the victory of humans over illness and death. One text from 1909 called Mosquito or Man? speaks of this inevitable triumph over disease with an air of colonial domination, stating:

The tropical world is today being steadily and surely conquered…The campaigns show that the three great insect-carried scourges of the tropics–the greatest enemies that mankind has ever had to contend with, namely Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Sleeping Sickness–are now fully in hand and giving way, and with their conquest disappears the depression which seems to have gripped our forefathers. Now the situation is full of hope. The mosquito is no longer a nightmare; it can be got rid of.

Most European and U.S. medical attention in diseases of the “tropical world” peaked only after these conditions negatively impacted colonial interests. For example, the deaths of tens of thousands of workers from yellow fever or malaria infections (from the then-unknown mosquito vector) contributed to the failure of the 19th century French attempt to construct a canal through Panama. To create such a canal—an infrastructure project which would accelerate trade and establish imperial power—required “the economic control or eradication of the disease-conveying species…that affect personal comfort or real estate value” (LePrince and Orenstein 1916, p. 3).

SprayingLarvicideorOil
Man using a knapsack carrier to spray larvicide or oil in a ditch, 1916.

By the time, the United States began their own efforts to build the Panama Canal in 1904, U.S. public health officials had already instituted extensive sanitation projects informed by new epidemiological and entomological discoveries. These measures included draining stagnant water, controlling insect-breeding areas by spraying oil and larvicide or introducing larva-eating fish, fumigating buildings, and installing mosquito netting and window screens. Although canal laborers experienced less mortality from disease than their predecessors working for the French endeavor, medical staff continued to treat thousands of cases of mosquito-borne illnesses.

The hard fought results from these projects came with their own costs. Draining wetlands and adding larvicides (a combination of resin, carbolic acid, and sodium hydroxide) and crude oil into the remaining standing water wrecked havoc on the local ecology (Becker et al. 2013, p. 408). During mosquito control efforts in Panama, mosquito brigades poured an estimated 160,000 gallons of oil poured into the water in a single year of construction (Canfield 1908). Meanwhile, the time and money required for mosquito control campaigns could not be permanently sustained, making the comparative ease of mosquito eradication through DDT a welcome alternative. Mosquito resistance to insecticides has renewed interests in vector control, but today’s program developers are additionally informed by the historical challenges of managing mosquitoes.

DitchDigging
Left: A mosquito breeding ground: shaded wetlands surrounded by brush.                 Right: The brush-free ditch dug to drain the area. 1922

Gone is the easy confidence that mosquitos “may be destroyed” (Howard 1902). Today’s public health officials instead advise people living in mosquito-endemic areas to make difficult sacrifices to preserve their health. Although an absolute victor in the “mosquito or man” competition is both ridiculous and unlikely, it is tempting to view recent events placing mosquitoes firmly in the lead. We should remember that government officials, scientists, and physicians actually made these bold claims in a time immense of suffering and death from mosquito-transmitted diseases. Perhaps a bit of this early conviction in success (sans colonialism, of course) is necessary to fuel large-scale projects and innovation, so we can live with, rather than against, this historic foe.

Appling Oil Using a Cart
Applying a layer of oil to a ditch using a horse drawn cart. Panama, 1916.

 

References:

  1. Becker, N., Zgoma, M., Petric, D., Dahl, C., Boase, C., Lane, J., & Kaiser, A. 2013. Mosquitoes and their Control. New York, NY: Springer Science+Business and Media.
  2. Boyce, R. 1909. Mosquito or Man? The Conquest of the Tropical World. London, UK: John Murray.
  3. Canfield, H. 1908. Oil and Mosquitoes: Why the sanitary department used 3,200 barrels of oil or about 160,000 gallons during the last fiscal year. The Canal Record, Volume 1, p. 3.
  4. Hardenburg, W.E. 1922. Mosquito Eradication. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Co.
  5. Howard, L.O. 1902. Mosquitoes: How They Live, How They Carry Disease, How They are Classified, How They may be Destroyed. New York, NY: McClure, Phillips, & Co.
  6. LePrince, J.A. & Orentstein, A.J. 1916. Mosquito Control in Panama: Eradication of Malaria and Yellow Fever in Cuba and Panama. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
  7. Nuttall, G.H, Cobbett, L., & Strangeways-Pigg, T. 1901. Studies in relation to Malaria. Journal of Hygiene 1, 4-77.

The Eye as Art: Anatomy and Vision in the 18th Century

Engraving of the eye in DeGravers' A Complete Physico-Medical and Churugical on the Human Eye and the Demonstration of Natural Vision (1780).
Fig. 1: Engraving of the eye in  A Complete Physico-Medical and Churugical on the Human Eye and the Demonstration of Natural Vision (Degraver, 1780).

There is not one Part of the whole Body, that discovers more Art and Disign (sic), than this small Organ: All its Parts are so excellently well contrived, so elegantly formed and nicely adjusted that none can deny it to be an Organ as magnificent and curious, as the Sense is useful and entertaining.

— William Porterfield in A Treatise on the Eye, The Manner and Phaenomena of Vision, 1759

The Dittrick Museum is thrilled to have Dr. Jonathan Lass present “Eye of the Artist” for the upcoming Zverina Lecture on Oct. 14th. Dr. Lass, the Charles I. Thomas Professor, and formerly chair, in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and Medical Director of the Cleveland Eye Bank, will discuss the ways eye conditions impacted the work of artists including Pissaro, Monet, Degas, and O’Keefe, and how individual vision could influence major artistic movements throughout history.

Fig. 2: Engraving of how the parts of the eye create an image of an object. From Chandler (1780).
Fig. 2: Engraving of how the eye creates an image of an object. From Chandler (1780).

Although Dr. Lass will focus on pathological conditions for his lecture, today’s post looks at how 18th century physicians described “normal” or “natural” vision. These authors’ considered the eye, with its delicate structures and wondrous design, as a work of art. To disseminate research about these intricacies, engravers used immense skill and detail to produce anatomical representations (Fig. 1) and optics diagrams (Fig. 2).

Aside from graphical renditions, these early writings on the eye relied on artistic terms. Rays of light “paint” images onto the retina and these unique “strokes” are received by the Sensorium (the sensory part of the brain) and interpreted as “sketches of nature” by a viewer’s Mind.

Fig. 3: Structure of the eye and optic nerves from
Fig. 3: Structure of the eye and optic nerves from Degravers (1780).

Medical authors’ use of this artistic terminology reflected contemporary discussions surrounding the relationship between vision and reality. Were the perceptions of the Mind accurate depictions of the environment or were they truly only “sketches”? Could the eyes be trusted as empirical tools in science, or were external devices, like microscopes, necessary to ensure precise experimental data? Do eyes act as artists or instruments? Debates about the nature of colors (inherent in objects, dependent on light, created by the eyes) and the origins of delusions (originating from the mind or the organs) circled in scientific communities where the hallmark of research was eye-witnessed experimentation.

We hope you join us for the Zverina Lecture to hear more about how the eyes’ structure and function influence perceptions of reality, and how major artists’ health impacted the way they saw and portrayed the world around them.

The talk begins at 6:00PM, followed by a reception in the Dittrick Museum gallery. There is no charge, but you must register to get a seat! Please RSVP to Jennifer Nieves at 216/369-3648 or via email at jks4@case.edu

Continue reading The Eye as Art: Anatomy and Vision in the 18th Century

Touch and Go: Cars, Health and Cleveland’s First Traffic Signals

Today’s Google doodle reminds us of the innovation and order brought by Garrett Morgan’s creation of the traffic signal. Cleveland became the first city to install these devices on August 5th, 1914 at the bustling Euclid Avenue and E. 105th St. intersection — on the current campus of Cleveland Clinic, just down the street from CWRU and our museum [1,6].

The traffic signal became a necessary fixture in light of alarming statistics about the dangers of automobiles and their fatal accidents in the early 20th century. From when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting information in 1906 to 1914, the number of automobile fatalities per 100,000 population increased from 0.40 to 4.28 [7]. City traffic made automobiles even more dangerous, with Cleveland having the 3rd highest number traffic deaths in 1917 with 19.8 per 100,000 population!

The Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article in 1914 entitled “How Health is Injured in Riding in Automobiles” that examined how the increased pace of life brought on by the private automobile and other technologies allowed for more productivity at the cost of over-exertion [2]. Exhausted drivers posed a danger to themselves and other citizens. The human mind, focused now only on driving to and from work, did not have, the article’s author claimed, the same exercise it could have on the street car or when walking. Popular writers and practitioners alike saw this state of singularity as having a damaging effect on the nerves if drivers did not seek other mental and physical activities [5]. Public health campaigns sought to make driving safer for distracted drivers by initiatives that included Morgan’s traffic signals and crossing guards [3].

Dr. Samuel Kelley, a Cleveland pediatrician, posing with his automobile, 1910.
Dr. Samuel Kelley, a Cleveland pediatrician, posing with his automobile. From JAMA Vol. LVI(15), 1910.
This uptick in mortalities accompanied the boom in automobiles on U.S. streets to nearly 2 million vehicles by 1917 — some of which were ambulances and physicians’ cars. The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce reported in 1921 that over 65% of physicians drove their own passenger vehicles for private and business use [4]. Dr. Samuel Kelley, professor at Cleveland’s Western Reserve University and a prominent local pediatrician, utilized his car to attend to his extensive private practice, going as far to extoll his car’s virtues in a 1910 JAMA volume [3].  Lakeside Hospital employed ambulances to quickly transport patients to their downtown location.

Lakeside Hospital Ambulance, c. 1910.
Lakeside Hospital Electric Ambulance, c. 1905. In 1912, gas-powered ambulances replaced these vehicles for transport to Lakeside. Courtesy of the University Hospital Archives.
Despite the dangers of automobile transportation, improvements in car design and traffic regulation led to eventual decreases in the number of accidents per vehicle and safer, more expedient treatment by medical attendants. Garrett’s development and installation of the traffic signal 101 years ago continues to reduce injury and add some order to the chaos of 21st century life.

References:

[1] Garrett, Morgan A. Nov. 20, 1923. U.S. Patent US1475024 A. http://www.google.com/patents/US1475024

[2] “How Health is Injured by Riding in an Automobile.” Dec. 15, 1914. Cleveland Plain Dealer. p. 35.

[3] Kelley, Samuel W. 1910. Choose a moderately heavy car with a long wheel-base and big wheels. Journal for the American Medical Association 54(15): 1257.

[4] National Automobile Chamber of Commerce. 1921. Facts and Figures of the Automobile Industry. New York, NY. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100114589

[5] Motorvehical safety increasing. 1921. The Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers 8(5):486.

[6] Street Crossing Traffic Signals, Cleveland, Ohio. 1914. Engineering News 72(23):1130.

[7] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. 1919. “Violent Deaths Excluding Suicide.” p. 61. In: Mortality Statistics. Washington, DC.

By the Light of the Fever-, Gout- and Plague-Inducing Moon: Lunar Medicine

Fig. 1: Frontispiece from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae showing the moon reflecting the sun's light like a mirror.
Fig. 1: Frontispiece from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae showing the moon reflecting the sun’s light like a mirror.
Today, July 20th, is Moon Day! To commemorate the day humans first walked on the moon in 1969, the Dittrick Museum looks at how centuries of scholars considered the movements of the moon and planets as having a great impact on health.

Athanasius Kircher, a 17th-century polymath priest, created an astrological chart know as a “Sciathericon” in his treatise on optics and light called Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1671). This chart (Fig. 2) connected the zodiac with parts of human anatomy, types of health conditions, and the medications that could be used to treat these bodily complaints.

Fig. 2: Sciathericon from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, Kircher, 1671. From the Dittrick Rarebooks Collections
Fig. 2: Sciathericon from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, Kircher, 1671. From the Dittrick Rare Book Collections
For example, the man in the Sciathericon stands with his right foot on the moon with a dotted line connecting his foot to “Podagra” or gout. Kircher suggests practitioners use “Intybus” or chicory to treat gout. At this time, physicians considered gout to occur most frequently in the Spring, or under the astrological sign of Pisces. Kircher’s Renaissance contemporaries frequently wrote about the co-occurrence of gout attacks with the full moon and the vernal equinox. Rather than allowing human complaints to be random, these charts functioned like clocks, ordering the observed illnesses and behaviors to correspond with regular planetary movements.

Fig. 3: The Moon and Lunar Cycle from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, 1671.

Like Kircher, Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist and physician, looked to the heavens to understand human health. The frontispiece of Culpeper’s Last Legacy, a posthumous publication from 1676, shows the author with a crystal, a skull, and celestial globe, displaying the interrelatedness of astrology and the body in 17th-century medicine.

Fig. 3: Nicholas Culpeper’s portrait from Culpeper’s Last Legacy, 1676. From the Dittrick Rare Book Collections.
Fig. 4: Nicholas Culpeper’s portrait from Culpeper’s Last Legacy, 1676. From the Dittrick Rare Book Collections.
Culpeper’s system of medicine involved indexing herbs by the astronomical bodies governing them. If a physician knew the planet ruling a particular part of human anatomy and causing disease, treatment with herbs of the opposite planet could cure the affliction. For example, Culpeper writes that the moon is the antipathy of Saturn. Thus, moon-governed herbs like white saxifrage, a small white-flowering plant (No. 167 in Fig. 5) can cure diseases of the Saturn-ruled veins, like blockages and poisonings.

White Saxifrage from Culpeper's Complete Herbal, 1826. From the Dittrick Rare Book Collections.
Fig. 5: White Saxifrage from Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, 1826. From the Dittrick Rare Book Collections.
Eighteenth century physicians continued to look for connections between health and the position of the moon. British physician with the East India Company, Francis Balfour published A Treatise on the Influence of the Moon in Fevers in 1784. Balfour considered the time three days before a full moon to three days after the moon begins to wane to be a critical time for fever-diseases.

Although these findings came from his work in Bengal, India, Balfour extrapolated that all fever diseases function “in a similar manner in every inhibited quarter of the Globe; and consequently, a similar attention to it is a matter of general importance in the practice of Medicine” (p. 41).

Richard Meade, Royal Physician to King George II, also examined the link between the moon and medicine. Meade writes in A Treatise Concerning the Influence of the Sun and Moon upon Human Bodies and the Diseases thereby Produced (1748) that “it is most certain that epidemic fevers are caused by some noxious qualities of our atmosphere; and therefore it seems reasonable to suppose that such changes as produce those effects may happen in it in all seasons by the influence of the moon” (p. 68).

Meade incorporated the growing literature on gravity and tides into his medical arguments. He postulated that when the moon is closest to the Earth, the gravitational pull felt by oceans is also exerted on the atmosphere and a human’s circulatory system. By drawing on physics, Meade provided a mechanistic explanation of health fluctuations.

Fig. 8: Meade's opening statement in A Treatise concerning the Influence of the Sun and Moon upon Human Bodies and the Diseases thereby produced, 1748. From the Dittrick Rare Books Collections.
Fig. 8: Meade’s opening argument in A Treatise concerning the Influence of the Sun and Moon upon Human Bodies and the Diseases thereby Produced, 1748. From the Dittrick Rare Books Collections.
According to Meade, the twice daily occurrence of a closer moon causes regular swelling of the blood vessels. Additionally, conditions like plague frequently erupted during the new and full moons (when the lunar gravitational pull causes the highest barometric pressure) and grow worse during the tides. Meade’s work sought to order the seemingly random outbreaks of epidemics based on atmospheric variables. This research kept with contemporary miasma theory before information about plague-causing bacteria became available.

Today’s lunar holiday commemorates human’s intelligence, strength and determination to achieve previously unreachable goals. Meanwhile, this post recounted how centuries of researchers looked up and worried about how the moon’s position and proximity to our planet could, like clockwork, make us weak, cure ailments, or bring chaos and death. However, there is a similarity between the astronauts of the 20th and 21st centuries and the authors highlighted here. They sought to reveal the unknown facts of the universe and make clear our place in it. We celebrate them all today.