On Thursday night, Stony Brook University historian Nancy Tomes delivered the 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecture. The lecture was based on her Bancroft Prize-winning book, Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers. It was titled “Doctor Shoppers: From Problem Patients to Model Citizens.”
As some of you know, I took two graduate courses with Nancy at Stony Brook and she was a member of my dissertation committee. I had the privilege of introducing her on Thursday night. Here is what I said:
I met Nancy Tomes in September 1994. As a first semester Ph.D student in history, I enrolled in her doctoral research seminar at The State University of New York at Stony Brook. During that seminar, I can honestly say that I learned how to write like a historian in a community of fellow graduate students. We spent each week discussing our research ideas and we thought together about how to frame those ideas in compelling prose. Nancy always balanced her constructive criticism with a healthy dose of encouragement, a character trait that is often hard to find in academia. Nancy calmed our anxieties, cheered us on, and showed us what scholarly excellence looks like.
As the semester progressed, I felt more and more confident in my ability to survive graduate school and become a historian. The next year I signed-up again for Nancy’s seminar. This time I wrote a paper that I would eventually expand into a dissertation and eventually my first book. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Nancy agreed to serve as a member of my dissertation committee. I should also add that somewhere here on campus there is a file that contains a letter that Nancy wrote recommending me for a teaching job at Messiah College. I will always be thankful that our paths crossed in that seminar room nearly 25 years ago.
Nancy Tomes, our 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecturer, is Distinguished Professor of History at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York. Her research interests have ranged widely over the past four decades, but almost all of it has focused on the intersection between expert knowledge and popular understandings of the body and disease. She is the author of A Generous Confidence: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Art of Asylum Keeping (Cambridge, 1984; paperback, Penn, 1994), Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness Before 1914, co-authored with Lynn Gamwell (Cornell, 1995), and The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life(Harvard, 1998). She has edited two books, published dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters, and authored “Medicine and Madison Avenue,” a website on the history of health-related advertising, developed in collaboration with Duke University Library’s Special Collections. Tomes work has received awards and honors from the American Public Health Association, the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the History of Science Society. By my count, she has directed nearly 20 Ph.D dissertations. Her 2016 book, Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers (UNC, 2016) was the recipient of the 2017 Bancroft Prize in American History, the most prestigious award in American history. Her lecture tonight is titled “Doctor Shoppers: From Problem Patients to Model Citizens.”
Please welcome to Messiah College, one of the our country’s finest American historians, Nancy Tomes.
While she was on campus, Nancy treated my Colonial America course to a lecture on disease in early America, she talked about her career trajectory to a group of humanities and nursing students, and chatted with Messiah College faculty about the current state of health care in America. Her visit bridged the liberal arts and the professional programs at Messiah College, especially the history and nursing departments.
I also got the chance to take Nancy to the Harrisburg State Hospital, a mental hospital (founded in 1851) designed by Thomas Story Kirkbride, the subject of her first book. Nancy wrote about the hospital in A Generous Confidence, but had never visited. We had a great time wandering the grounds and searching for the cornerstone of the original Kirkbride building. Nancy shared stories and insights from her own work and we talked about new projects and her interest in evangelicalism and health care. It was also my first visit to the hospital (now closed). I got to experience it through the eyes of one of our foremost historians of mental hospitals. Not too shabby. I am now thinking about how to incorporate this amazing landmark into my Pennsylvania History course in the Spring.
Here are some pics from Nancy’s lecture: