From King of Opium Substitutes to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson

This article is an abstract of Patrick Chiu’s forthcoming book “Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson” due to release at the end of May 2022. Pre-ordering at the Amazon Books is available or World Scientific with the discount code WSASOC20, valid until September 30, 2022.

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Points Interview: Dr Laura Robson-Mainwaring

Today’s post features an interview with Dr Laura Robson-Mainwaring, the Modern Health Records Specialist at The National Archives. She specialises in 20th century health records. Prior to joining the archives Laura undertook a PhD on Branding, Packaging and Trade Marks in the Medical Marketplace c.1870-c.1920 at the University of Leicester, and she holds a MSc in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine from Imperial College London. 

Laura recently authored ‘“OWN NAME,” “NO NAME,” AND “THE PLAGUE OF FANCY NAMES”: Trademarks within the British Pharmaceutical Market, c. 1875-1920‘ within the first issue of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals. Find out more about Laura’s background, article and future research plans in this interview.

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Interview—Mat Savelli, “Crafting the Modern Via Psychoactivity Advertisements” 

Mat Savelli Interview Title Card
Left: Senegalese advertisement from December 24, 1960, issue of Dakar Matin. The ad proclaims that Kiravi Valpierre wine is the “Perfect Product of Progress.” Image featured in the article “Crafting Modernity via Psychoactivity Advertisements” in HoPP 63.1

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of the Points series of interviews with authors from the inaugural issue of AIHP’s journal History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (HoPP) (vol. 63, no. 1). Today we feature Mat Savelli, Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Health, Aging, and Society at McMaster University. Read his article here (open access until February 2022!) and consider joining AIHP to subscribe to HoPP.

Article Abstract for “Crafting the Modern Via Psychoactivity Advertisements”

In this article, we examine advertisements for psychoactive products sold in five different geo-political jurisdictions: Canada, Colombia, Yugoslavia, India, and Senegal. We compare products and marketing campaigns aimed at selling psychoactive substances to consumers in these places over the twentieth century.

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Inaugural Issue of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals Published!

The American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP) is pleased to announce that the first issue of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (HoPP), the Institute’s renamed academic journal is now available online at JSTOR (63.1, 2021)! This issue of the journal is also the first published under AIHP’s new partnership with the University of Wisconsin Press. HoPP continues Pharmacy in History, which AIHP self-published from 1959 through 2020.

The first issue of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals features articles about trademarks and intellectual property rights in the British drug market in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the history of non-branded compounded drugs in the Netherlands; the introduction of cocaine to China; and an analysis of the global advertising of psychoactive drugs. Editor-in-Chief Lucas Richert said that the first issue of the re-titled HoPP “represents the increasingly global and vibrant nature of pharmacy and pharmaceutical history.”

HoPP1 SocialCard 2

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Documenting the Evolution of Hospital and Clinical Pharmacy: Remembering the Career of Joseph Oddis

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by William A. Zellmer, AIHP Advisor for Pharmacy Outreach and the President of Pharmacy Foresight Consulting.

A recently published tribute to Joseph A. Oddis (1928–2021), an extraordinary organizational leader in pharmacy, offers historical insights into the transformation of pharmacist education and pharmacy practice in the United States during the last four decades of the twentieth century. The entire August 15, 2021, issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (AJHP) (which is freely accessible at the preceding link) was devoted to the memory of Oddis, the first full-time Chief Executive Officer (1960–1997) of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), who died on February 24, 2021 (note: the downloadable .pdf version of this issue may be easier to read than the web version).

Joseph Oddis in 1984
Joseph Oddis at the Headquarters of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in 1984. Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

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Points Video Interview—Yan Liu, Healing With Poisons: Potent Medicines in Medieval China

Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to feature the first Points Video Interview today! SHAD co-Editor Dr. David Herzberg interviews Dr. Yan Liu about his new book, Healing With Poisons: Potent Medicines in Medieval China.

Points Interview Yan Liu

At first glance, medicine and poison might seem to be opposites. But in China’s formative era of pharmacy (200–800 CE), poisons were strategically deployed as healing agents to cure everything from chills to pains to epidemics. In Healing with Poisons, Dr. Yan Liu explores the ways physicians, religious devotees, court officials, and laypeople used powerful drugs to both treat intractable illnesses and enhance life. By recovering alternative modes of understanding wellness and the body’s interaction with potent drugs, this book cautions against arbitrary classifications and exemplifies the importance of paying attention to the technical, political, and cultural conditions in which drugs become truly meaningful.

In this interview conducted by David Herzberg, Dr. Liu discusses several topics from his book, including the crucial, but forgotten role of poisons in Chinese medicine during the medieval era, the misconceived dichotomy between Chinese and Western medicine, psychoactive drugs, and the close relationship between poison, witchcraft, and politics in medieval China.

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Pharmacy in History Interview—Rachael Pymm, “Transmitting Medical Exotica”

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of the Points series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of AIHP’s journal Pharmacy in History (vol. 62, no. 3-4). Today we feature Rachael Pymm, an independent researcher, holding an MA from the History Department of Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. You can see her article here. Contact AIHP to subscribe to Pharmacy in History.

Article Abstract for “Transmitting Medical Exotica: Louis Philiberto Vernatti, the Snakestone, and the Royal Society “

Snakestones, purported to naturally generate in the head of a snake, were reputed to be a cure for snakebites in the early modern world. Against the backdrop of European exoticism, which influenced the circulation of pharmaceutical and medical knowledge, snakestones became a subject of popular and scholarly interest during the late seventeenth century. Analyzing unpublished archival evidence, this paper considers the circumstances of the 1664 transmission of an individual snakestone from Batavia, Indonesia, to the Royal Society in London, England. Unlike other pharmaceutical exotica that was commonly conveyed via large-scale commercial networks, the trade in snakestones was characterized by small-scale transfer in the manner of kunstkammer materials.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself:

I’m an independent scholar based in the UK, and I work in Professional Services at a university. I have a broad range of academic interests, including the history of medicine, as well as the medieval crusades and how they have been memorialized on postage stamps. I have been researching unusual animal-based materia medica—particularly snakestones—for a number of years, alongside my work and family commitments. Researching in this way can be challenging, particularly in terms of time management, but I really love my subject. And I have a very supportive family most of whom—including my six year old son—are now fully conversant in snakestone lore!

PH Interview Pymm

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The Lincoln Family and Pennyroyal: Re-Evaluating Medicines in the Archive and Beyond

Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Emma Verstraete is a doctoral candidate in Archaeology at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Why would a person buy this medicine? What were they trying to treat? As a historical archaeologist who focuses on consumer medicine, I’m faced with this question more frequently than many historians of medicine. Archaeologists rarely have access to journals, letters, or other primary sources that mention specific products present in an archaeological assemblage—such as the one pictured below from my own research about the material culture of consumerism. Historians of business and economics who research drugstores or pharmacies, too, are frequently faced with daybooks that list the product being purchased and by whom, but without specific context or rationale for the purchase.

archaeological assemblage
A photo of a typical artifact assemblage from a an urban archaeological site. Dating to the 1870s–80s, this assemblage featured over 50 medicine bottles, including vials from a medical field kit and 15 embossed bottles indicating specific drugstores or proprietary medicines. Photo courtesy of Fever River Research, a Cultural Resource Management firm that has conducted extensive research in the Springfield, Illinois, area.

Despite differences in research methods and artifact access, archaeologists and historians frequently confront such uncertainties relating to medicine use and disease treatment. Such subjects are also often considered taboo and are therefore sometimes not as extensively discussed in the written record. These circumstances place a burden of speculation on the researcher that demands acknowledgement of personal bias and, importantly, the biases of information recorded in archives.

Many cultures and communities, for example, rely on oral traditions, which can sometimes limit a researcher’s ability to find archival sources that deal with specific folk traditions or beliefs. Historically, who has been allowed—or not been allowed—to write down knowledge can also influence possible interpretations. And the places researchers go to verify and fact check information can also have limitations. Books and manuscripts accessioned by archives or libraries and institutional collecting policies, themselves, often reflect the history and the values of the majority culture at the expense of other groups [1]. Current efforts to decolonize and diversify the archive are working to improve these issues, but such efforts are long processes.

As a small case study, this post will discuss how such biases and silences in archival sources may have led a popular 1984 article about Abraham Lincoln to arrive at incomplete and (unintentionally) biased conclusions about the Lincoln household’s use of pennyroyal, a common plant used in nineteenth-century pharmaceutical preparations, folk medicine, and herbals.

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