Diseases, Diagnoses, and Developments: Medicine During the Civil War Era

Friday, March 31, 2023, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Civil War and Reconstruction; Medical History; Social and Cultural


The Civil War era ushered in remarkable transformations, and research in the twenty-first century suggests the medical impact of this war has too long been overlooked. New research increases our appreciation of the way in which racial dynamics powerfully affected medical practice, how the U.S. government and military responded to the medical crises introduced by war. Equally intriguing: how medical practice shifted priorities during wartime, and how families adjusted to returning soldiers traumatized by war. Medical bureaucracy, medical practice and the psychological fallout of war will be debated by historical researchers in this dynamic field.

Session Participants

Chair: David Silkenat
My research focuses on the social and cultural history of the American South during the 19th century, with particular attention to the Civil War.

My most recent book is Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War (UNC Press, 2019). It was a finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.

I am also the author of Driven from Home: North Carolina's Civil War Refugee Crisis, which was published by UGA Press in October 2016 and received the North Caroliniana Society Book Award for the best non-fiction published that year. My first book, Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina (UNC Press, 2011), explored shifting moral sentiments in North Carolina over the course of the 19th century, and was also awarded the North Caroliniana Society Book Award for the best non-fiction book of 2011. I have also published articles on labour at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Populism, female education in the Civil War South, African Americans’ historical memory of Abraham Lincoln during the 1930s, and the origins of the 'scourged back' photo.

Proposal Submitter Only: Catherine Clinton, University of Texas San Antonio
Catherine Clinton holds the Denman Chair of American History
at the University of Texas San Antonio & is also Professor Emerita at Queen’s University Belfast.
Clinton has authored or edited over 30 books on historical subjects, including Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, Tara Revisited: Women, War and the Plantation Legend, Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War. She won a Guggenheim in 2016, and has served as president of both the Southern Historical Association and the Southern Association for Women Historians. She has been elected to the Society of American Historians, was a consultant for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and serves as co-editor of the University of Georgia Press series, History in the Headlines.

Panelist: Deirdre Cooper Owens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Deirdre Cooper Owens is The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program. She is also an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer. A popular public speaker, she has published essays, book chapters, and blog pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences. Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history.

Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. Currently, she is working on a second book project that examines mental illness during the era of United States slavery and is also writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability. She primarily teaches classes on the history of medicine.

Panelist: James Thomas Downs, Gettysburg College/Harvard Hutchins Fellow
Jim Downs is the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History. He is the author of Sick From Freedom: African American Sickness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford UP, 2012), Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016) and Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine (Harvard UP, 2021).

He has edited four anthologies, including Beyond Freedom: Disrupting the History of Emancipation, co-edited with David Blight (University of Georgia Press, 2017) and Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in North America (University of Illinois Press, 2016) coedited with Jennifer Brier and Jennifer Morgan.

Panelist: Jonathan S. Jones, Virginia Military Institute
Jones is a historian of the United States Civil War era and American medical history, with particular research interests in Civil War veterans, gender, and drugs. Since fall 2021, I’m an assistant professor at Virginia Military Institute. Previously in 2020-21, I was the inaugural Postdoctoral Scholar in Civil War History at Penn State’s George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. I received my PhD in history in 2020 from Binghamton University, where I earned awards for research and teaching.

My first book project, “Opium Slavery: The Civil War, Veterans, and America’s First Opioid Crisis,” under advance contract with UNC Press, investigates opioid addiction among veterans of the U.S. Civil War. My research uncovers how the Civil War sparked an epidemic of drug addiction among the war’s survivors—America’s first opioid crisis—and investigates the traumatic experiences and personal toll of addiction for veterans and their families. The manuscript also explores radical efforts by physicians and the state to stem the tide of the addiction crisis, which rippled throughout American medicine and society. Ultimately, my book reveals that the U.S. has a long, but largely forgotten, history of opioid crises, with troubling parallels between past and present.