My stomach rumbled with excitement when I read the call for papers for a workshop titled ‘History, Digestion and Society: New Perspectives’ at University College Dublin, 30 April – 1 May 2010, organised at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland.
As the organisers (Ian Miller and Mike Liffey) point out, diet and digestion are neglected in histories of the body, health and medicine. And diseases of the digestive system, like dyspepsia, peptic ulcer disease, vomiting etc., are not properly historically contextualised:
(image of knitted stomach from Strange but Trewe)
Meanwhile, historical analysis of issues related to food and eating often reveals a tendency to stress the political elements of historical events at the expense of the biological and medical. Topics such as hunger strikes, and the rise of organised movements such as the Temperance movement and organised vegetarianism have complex medical and biological aspects which are worthy of serious analytical attention.
Possible topics include:
- Refusal to eat food (e.g. hunger strikes)
- Dietary movements (e.g. temperance societies, vegetarianism)
- The development of related technologies such as frozen food and processed food.
- Historical concepts related to understandings of nutrition
- The history of individual digestive organs such as the stomach
- Medical issues related to digestion (e.g. gastric ulcer disease, indigestion)
- Socio-cultural issues related to obesity and anorexia.
- Surgical and medical intervention in the digestive system.
- Human and animal digestive habits
- Digestion and criminal activity (e.g. poisoning)