2018 Redmond Barry Fellowship public lecture
‘Hunting Tuberculosis Through History: disease in the archives or diseased archives?’
Dr Ross Jones, 2016 Redmond Barry Fellow
Dr Jones will present the outcomes of his study into the life history of tuberculosis. Hunting tuberculosis throughout history is a fascinating and challenging task as the disease has changed from prehistoric times, when it crossed over to humans due to the domestication of animals, until the present where multi drug resistant versions threaten to expose the ‘emperor’s clothes’ of modern medical technologies. In the nineteenth century in Melbourne, tuberculosis found a new home in the crowded slums and was seen to be the ‘white man’s burden’, until the advent of bacteriology and germ theory burst upon the medical world. This lecture will examine all aspects of the life history of tuberculosis, focusing largely (but not exclusively) on Melbourne in the nineteenth century.
Hunting tuberculosis also flushes out other fascinating issues. This is because a historical study of tuberculosis and the introduction of bacteriology and modern medical methods and technologies raise important questions about modern issues in the history of science and medicine. What are the problems with dealing with the evidentiary basis of the history of tuberculosis? Were patients described as tubercular sufferers in the nineteenth century really suffering from tuberculosis? Should historians of medical research be aware of the current reproducibility crisis in examining the beginnings of disease research? How can historians, like current scientific researchers, protect the artefacts, both literary and material, from oblivion and contamination? Is the digitisation of archives the solution or the problem?