The Mutter (pronounced ‘Mooter’) Museum is not the only institution in America that possesses a piece of Einstein’s brain or houses an exhibit on the original Siamese Twins. It is only one of several museums worldwide to create a temporary display dedicated to the 500th birthday of Andreas Vesalius, the ‘Father of Modern Anatomy’, and is but one of several sites in Philadelphia to honor founding father, and ‘Father of America Psychiatry’, Dr. Benjamin Rush (though none as stimulating to the senses as the Mutter’s ‘Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden’). Moreover, the Mutter’s newest permanent exhibit (‘Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia’) may oversaturate a regional heritage tourism market that already has a whole museum devoted to early 1860s medicine, although the accompanying nine-part on-site film series starring Museum Director Robert Hicks is very well done. The Mutter Museum is, however, the only place where you can find all these in one location, as I learned on a recent visit with my colleagues in the Temple University Intellectual Heritage Program.
The name ‘Intellectual Heritage’ reflects the program’s long history; from what I’ve been told by colleagues who have taught in the program for decades, IH courses traditionally offered a more-or-less standard two-semester Great Books sequence before evolving into Mosaic classes seven-years ago. One of the coolest things about teaching Mosaic courses at Temple is that the IH leadership truly believes in the importance of education that goes on outside the classroom and therefore sponsors events such as a class trip to see Antigone at the Wilma Theater or a semester-long film series tied into the curriculum, which was revised again this spring so now each course includes seven books, several of which individual instructors have some choice over including one ‘stretch text’ which is completely their pick. My choice of ‘stretch text’, a book about North Korea, ended up working even better than I’d imagined in part due to the furor over the film The Interview that brought entertainment media attention to the rogue nation in the month before spring semester started (a process that may very well be repeating itself this week). Under this new curriculum the Mosaic II classes that I teach focus on Politics, Science, and Society (while the first half of the sequence now explores Literature, Philosophy, and Religion), which is why for me the Mutter was such a good choice to hold our orientation since they put science in a socio-political context. After several administrative announcements about workshops available to aid in improving professional pedagogy, another of the nice things about teaching in the IH program, we started the day-long seminar.
The AM session consisted of a talk on the uses of electricity in 19th century medicine (including tie-ins for those teaching Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein), for which Dr. Hicks donned a lab coat to regale us in character with seemingly outlandish but carefully cited statements on the medical magic of electricity. Though the talk wasn’t specifically geared in this way, I’m planning to introduce some of what I learned to highlight the many culturally contingent Paradigm Shifts, to borrow Thomas Kuhn’s terminology, that modern medicine has undergone over the last century. Dr. Hicks also discussed how Silas Weir Mitchell, the ‘Father of American Neurology’ and namesake of the enormous ballroom in which we were sitting, had used electrical equipment during the Civil War to discover what we today term phantom-limb pain (while noting that Mitchell is better known now as the man who first widely applied the term ‘hysteria’ to women in the later decades of the Victorian Era). This discussion provided a segue to our afternoon session, hosted by Mutter Museum Curator Anna Dhody, which could easily have been explicitly framed in terms of Mary Shelley’s own mother’s death while giving birth to her, since all sections of Mosaic II now read Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. This last talk of the day focused on the decline of midwifery over the course of the 19th century due both to the ‘professionalization’ of medicine and, as Dhody asserted, from a desire of doctors to make more money (as Marx might argue).
Since Karl Marx is another author all Mosaic II instructors now cover, and in view of the ongoing debates over privately versus publicly funded healthcare, I look forward to discussing the complicated relationships between medical treatment and economics using these historical examples this semester. Moreover, this is just one illustration of the many possibilities for using integrated learning in my classes to contextualize science in socio-political terms: from juxtaposing Las Casas and Galileo as a way to talk about religion and science in light of the Papal trip to Philly (while making sure to allow time for this lab), to using Thucydides and Sun Tzu to illustrate deep-seated cultural differences in the science and politics of war, while still setting aside a day to explore organizational issues in warfare by playing human chess. Our day at the Mutter, as well as the tangible benefits of reading The Art of War for business majors and of studying the humanities for future scientists, all demonstrate the true value of these Mosaic courses, which also happen to rank consistently amongst Temple’s most technologically engaging classes overall.