At work in the world: proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, June 19-22, 2010, San Francisco, California.
Perspectives in medical humanities, Blanc P, Dolan B, eds. San Francisco, CA: University of California Medical Humanities Press, 2012 Mar; :1-216
The history of occupational and environmental medicine is rich but has largely been relegated to passing notice or ignored altogether, even by clinical specialists in this field. Brief summaries of occupational and environmental medical history, when they are included in reviews or more rarely still in educational curricula, often have a limited focus on the biographical highlights of selected clinicians and researchers who have contributed to the development of this discipline. Yet as important as these biographies are, other historical factors are critical to the evolution of occupational and environmental health. First, advances in technology have played a driving role in occupational and environmental medicine that is unparalleled in other fields of health. It is true that advances in diagnostic and therapeutic modalities, from the microscope to the laser, demonstrate the powerful effect that technologic innovation can have on medical practice as a whole. But despite the role that such inventions have played in clinical care, the underlying pathologic processes of concern to practitioners have not changed because of them. Simply put, the microscope did not create illnesses due to new strains of bacteria. In contrast, technologic change continually introduces new occupational and environmental hazards, leading to evolving patterns of established diseases, as well as inducing entirely novel conditions never experienced before in human history. Second, the history of occupational and environment medicine reflects of the impact of larger social movements outside the narrow confines of medicine. Although other branches of medicine are not immune to such phenomena, occupational and environmental health concerns have tended to wax and wane secondary to societal forces. Thus, this important and underrecognized area of scholarship presents a major opportunity to advance the field by bringing together trained historians and occupational and environmental health clinicians and researchers for a creative exchange of ideas. This was the central goal of the 4th International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health as with the three International Conferences on this theme that preceded it: the first in Rome, Italy in 1998; the second in Norrköping, Sweden in 2001; and the third in Birmingham, England in 2007. In addition to the conferences themselves, published proceedings have helped to document and disseminate their output (Grieco A, Iavicoli S, Berlinguer G, eds. Contributions to the History of Occupational and Environmental Prevention: 1st International Conference on the History of Occupational Prevention, Rome, Italy; 4-6 October 1998, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1999; Nelson MD, ed. Occupation Health and Public Health. Lessons from the Past-Challenges for the Future, 2006: Arbete och Hälse [Ventenskaplig Skriftserie], National Institute for Working Life, Sweden. The 4th International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health was the first in the series to take place outside of Europe. It was made possible through the educational grants of a number of organizations and by the work of an international organizing committee noted in the acknowledgements (with particular thanks to my conference co-chair, Michele Riva of Milan). The conference was noteworthy in a number of ways. In addition to the superb program of scientific presentations documented in these proceedings, a pre-conference practical training workshop provided non-historians exposure to leading experts. This workshop covered basic methods and oral history-taking in occupational health (both led by Ronnie Johnston from Glasgow Caledonian University and Arthur McIvor form the University of Strathclyde); the nuts and bolts of archival research (led by Dorothy Porter and Lisa Mix of UCSF); and biographical methods (led by Barbara Sicherman, an Alice Hamilton scholar and Professor Emerita from Trinity College, Connecticut). Another highpoint was the closing reception for the conference, which took place at the library of the University of California San Francisco. This was hosted jointly by: the Program in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Stanford University; the Office for Science and Technology, UC Berkeley; the Medical Humanities Consortium through the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, UCSF; and the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, UCSF. The reception included a special exhibition of key texts in the history of occupational medicine held in the UCSF collection, curated by Lisa Mix. The list of titles included is an apt way to conclude these introductory comments:
At work in the world: proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, June 19-22, 2010, San Francisco, California