Western researcher and acclaimed Civil War historian wins major book award

The connection between war, society and medicine is and always will be an important and rich field of study for researchers like Shauna Devine.

A Visiting Research Fellow at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and a Civil War and Reconstruction professor at the Faculty of Social Science‘s Department of History, Devine is a highly respected Civil War historian.

Her most recent project, “Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science” (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014) will be presented the $50,000 Tom Watson Brown Book Award by The Society for Civil War Historians and the Watson-Brown Foundation today (Nov. 13) at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the Society for Civil War Historians and the Watson-Brown Foundation. I loved researching and writing ‘Learning from the Wounded.’ It was a fascinating period in American medicine and I am so pleased to be able to share my research with the members of the Society for Civil War Historians at the annual Tom Watson Brown Book Award dinner,” says Devine, who also served as a Historical Advisor for the upcoming PBS Civil War television series, “Mercy Street.”

Shauna Devine

Devine says the interconnectivity of war, society and medicine engages a critical methodological question about how academics and researches write medical history today, particularly, for a historical event like the American Civil War.

The war and its challenges provided new types of opportunities for American physicians—traumatic battlefield injuries which led to new surgical techniques, deadly diseases but also new hospitals to study and treat them, technical and institutional support from the government, and an Army Medical Department, which demanded, facilitated and shaped the production and development of new forms of medical knowledge.

“More than 12,000 practicing Union physicians, the majority of whom resumed civilian positions afterwards, were both causes and beneficiaries of countless changes in medicine that took shape during and after the war,” explains Devine. “The Civil War laid the basis for the medical modernization that would follow and continues today.”

Devine contends that in the 1860s, elite physicians from both America and abroad struggled with the same medical challenges: What caused disease? How could medical technology be used to investigate disease? What role could medical specialization have in modern medicine? Should medical education be centered on the patient, laboratory or hospital?

“What struck me most, through the course of my research for ‘Learning from the Wounded,’ was the epistemological dynamism in the sources that I had not anticipated. The wartime case records, specimen histories, narratives of service, contemporary publications together reveal the transforming role of the medical sciences in the way that American medicine was studied, structured, practiced, recorded and understood during and after the war. In the 1870s, as medicine moved into the bacteriological era we see medicine’s move to professional maturity. The Civil War well prepared physicians for this new medical landscape.”

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