The Doctor is In A Student Research Project on Medical History
December 20, 2021
Wilkinson College student Nat Pendergraft (‘22, History and TV Writing and Production Major and ‘23, MA War and Society), conducted an interactive exhibit on medical history, The Doctor is In, which took visitors “…on a tour through all the wacky things humans have tried on the human body.”
Activities included treating insomnia with poppies/opium (during the early twentieth-century), and trying to cure cataracts by applying ashes of a weasel and brains of a lizard on the eyes (ancient roman medicine).
The year-long project is a product of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program, an 8-week, hands-on research program, where students are mentored by expert faculty. Dr. Alex Bay, chair of the History Department, served as Pendergraft’s faculty advisor. The Voice of Wilkinson had the chance to speak to Pendergraft about their research and The Doctor is In exhibit that took place in early December..
Voice of Wilkinson: What was the biggest takeaway from your research and interactive exhibit?
One of my biggest takeaways is truly just how much I would love to expand upon this project. Operating within the budget and time that I had, it was relatively small, so going forward I can absolutely picture this as a permanent exhibit in a museum or science center. Having more time periods, more props, more set design, and more diseases would be incredible. I have even considered the idea of going on tour with it in the future, I can imagine how fun that could be. This is definitely just the beginning of what I think is an amazing experience and I am so grateful to all the people who volunteered their time and talent to make this a reality.
VoW: What was your inspiration for this research project?
One of my biggest inspirations is my life as a person with chronic pain. Studying history and having medical issues in the modern sense always made me interested in how people in the past treated things, especially pain. There’s plenty of interesting fun facts out there about the wacky things humans did/do to help the sick and hurting, and this led me down a deep rabbit hole. Also, the podcast “Sawbones” by Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin really introduced me to the world of medical history as a vehicle for comedy as well as education on serious issues
VoW: What was your favorite discovery and part of this year-long research project?
It is always so impressive to me when humans get things scientifically correct, as it is very much the exception to the rule. For every one thing humans figure out it seems it has taken us a couple hundred incorrect tries to get there. My favorite success story is the history of how we treat broken bones, since ancient times we have known to keep it stabilized and not put pressure on it. Lucky for us, bones heal on their own, so humans can usually figure out to just leave it alone. Usually.
Pendergraft would like to give a special thanks to all the actors: Matthew Deegan as Pliny the Elder, Theo Wood as the plague doctor, Sasha Espinosa as the doctor of heroic medicine, Ethan Williams as the patent medicine salesman, and Jordan Hadley as the World War 1 medic as well as, Dr. Bay, who helped make The Doctor is In exhibit a success.