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The Material Culture of Military Medicine

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Journal Article - Open Access

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National Museum of health and Medicine, USAMRMC Silver Spring United States

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If we associate any American portraitist with scientific and medical subjects, that artist is Thomas Eakins 1844-1916. Ultimately regarded as one of Americas finest realist painters, Eakins revealed personalities so committed to their intellectual and professional endeavors that he chose to portray them with the esoteric tools of their tradeWashington University engineering professor William D. Marks with his chronograph in 1886, or Johns Hopkins physics professor Henry Rowland with his ruling engine for diffraction gratings and spectroscopy in 1897. Eakins is probably best known and most revered for his fierce portraits of surgeons and their patients in heroic settings, those of the Dr. Samuel Gross Clinic 1875 and the Dr. D. Hayes Agnew Clinic 1889. In each case, the tool of choice was a scalpel, poised for demonstration by the portraits principal individual subject. Instead of choosing such a symbol for Dr. John Hill Brinton 1832-1907, Eakins relied on the image of finely rendered books to complement his portrait of the Philadelphia physician Fig. 1. His allusion was to teacher and academic physiciana ratified scholar whose garb and tools failed to betray his military medical background, which had been steeped both in the sinews of Civil War battle and in the impulse to foster this nascent national medical museum. Brinton joined the Army in 1861, leaving his position at Jefferson Medical College. Recognized for his organizational ability and collecting impulses, Surgeon General William Hammond charged Brinton with the collection and arrangement of items for the new Army Medical Museum now the National Museum of Health andMedicine in 1862. Brinton initiated the Museums masterwork, the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and became an effective advocate for the Museums role in disseminating contemporary medical knowledge learned in the battlefield, including characterization of gunshot wounds.

Subject Categories:

  • Medicine and Medical Research
  • Humanities and History

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