This is the third installment of conversations with friends of the History of Medicine Collection both new and old.
We first had the pleasure of meeting Jan Henning while working with Professor David Herzberg’s class: History of Health and Illness in America. We have enjoyed working with Dr. Herzberg for a number of years now, providing instruction in the research and use of historical primary medical resources. At the end of last semester (Fall 2014), Jan approached us with an interest in working with the Collection. As an international graduate student from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, (Jan’s hometown), there were a couple of administrative hoops to jump through, but happily everything worked out and at the beginning of the Spring (2015) semester, we welcomed Jan as an official Graduate Student Intern! During his time with us, Jan skillfully contributed to a number of the Collection’s projects, including our ongoing digitization of the Dr. Jackson Collection, collection development activities, exhibit preparation, and a research project examining the connections between Spiritualism and three of the University’s founding professors (Drs. Austin Flint, Charles Coventry, and Charles Lee). After spending more than 6 weeks with us, Jan bid us (and Buffalo) farewell last week and returned home. Having thoroughly enjoyed working with him, we thought we would check in with him to see how things are going in Deutschland!
Now that you are back home in Germany, fill us in…what are you up to!?
I just took an exam for the Winter Semester here in Darmstadt where I was also enrolled during my time in the US. Our Summer semester starts in April and I am planning to write my Master’s thesis. The project will analyze the notion of race and tuberculosis in 19th and 20th century USA. It is a topic I found very interesting while attending Prof. Herzberg’s class. Afterwards I will look for universities that offer an interesting position where I can write my dissertation.
What made you decide to study here in Western New York, at the University at Buffalo? Did anything about this area surprise you?
The University at Buffalo was my top choice because it is a partner university of my home university TU Darmstadt. It surprised me that since ten years I was the first student in history to come to UB from Darmstadt even though the partnership started through our departments of history. Dr. Georg Iggers and Prof. Dr. Böhme sent the first exchange students in the 1970s. I think buffalo is a beautiful city and is very diverse. It surprised me how well daily life works with all that snow. The multicultural experience studying at UB was a blessing to me.
While you were with us here in the Collection, you worked on a number of projects. Which ones did you enjoy most, and why?
Honestly, I enjoyed every part of it because I think the Medical Collection is an outstanding part of UB Libraries. It preserves documents that represent the foundation of the University of Buffalo which started as a Medical College. The study of medical history is very important in my eyes. Linda and Keith were so friendly and welcoming, how could I not have enjoyed working here? What I liked the most, though, was collaboratively working on an article with Keith. The topic, the notion of Religion, science, medicine and the unknown is very interesting. The close connection to Western New York and our university was fascinating, especially considering the wide spread of spiritualism even today.
You explored the history of health and medicine quite a bit while in Buffalo. Why do you think you are drawn to these particular topics? Do you have any future plans for additional studies, or for a career in an historical field?
The history of life and death, health and sickness is as old as humanity itself. The perception of certain illnesses have dramatically changed over the course of history. It shows us how extraordinarily our perception of being sick is culturally constructed. I think it is the task of historians to reveal the political and social dimensions of this topic. I will start to do this by writing my master’s thesis about race and tuberculosis.
Random Question: What is the fastest speed you have ever reached while driving on the Autobahn?
It is – in German terms – a poor driving speed of 180km/h (112 mp/h) achieved with my Golf Volkswagen. If you want to brag about your experience on the Autobahn you should at least have driven more than 250 km/h (155 mp/h).