Following the Recipe: Scale, Crisis, and Revisiting Vaccine Rejection in Montreal’s Last Smallpox Epidemic

Gabrielle McLaren // Smallpox arrived in Montreal for the last time in February 1885 and caused 3,164 recorded fatalities after the city failed to control the virus’s spread. Municipal authorities even suspended vaccination campaigns after scandalously—and embarrassingly—administering a botched vaccine. The subsequent rejection of the vaccine by the city’s French-Canadian population would become the key…

A Tale of Three Hospitals

Jaipreet Virdi // They were perceived as dens of death. Desolate, decaying spaces for sick persons desperate for relief, who were admitted and faced with the likelihood never to return home. These were spaces of discovery, where technology, expertise, and experimentation banded together to take up arms in the battle against disease, spaces where bodies…

Book Review: Bharat Venkat, “At the Limits of Cure”

Linda Hamrick // To hear the words “I am cured” incites satisfaction, joy, relief. Cured in the past-tense is the signifier of an illness overcome. To have been cured asserts that there was a previous state of being and that an illness, whatever it was, is no longer with us in the future. Bharat Venkat’s…

Using Narrative Medicine to Improve Public Health Messaging

Marcus Mosley // According to the CDC, 1 in 2 Black/African-American gay, bisexual, same gender loving and other men who have sex with men (MSM) will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.1 In facing such statistical odds, it is imperative that the public health community engage in messaging that not only reaches this group…

Illness and Creativity: Time is of the Essence

Rosa Geoghegan // Following their diagnoses with the plagues of their respective societies and milieux, tuberculosis and AIDS, the 19th-century English poet John Keats and the 20th-century French writer Hervé Guibert confronted in their writing their imminent deaths and limited time. There was no mystery as to the outcome of their suffering; Keats, a nurse…

Syphilis, Silence, and Suffering: Re-introducing Syphilis to “La Doulou”

Lillian Rountree // Finding a modern literary depiction of syphilis is nearly impossible. The disease has been academically and culturally dismissed — from Susan Sontag’s claim in Illness as Metaphor that the disease is “not mysterious” and thus limited in its metaphorical and literary power, to Matthew Macfadyen’s character on HBO’s Succession noting that “You…

Essay Series: “Illness and Francophone Literature and History”

Madeleine Dobie & Thomas Dodman // This collection of essays in Synapsis grew out of a course on pandemics in francophone history and culture that we offered in Columbia’s Department of French and Institute for Comparative Literature and Society in fall 2021. The unprecedented experience (at least in our community) of teaching in the midst…

The Great Read: Mourning Becomes Elect[ronic]

Lynn Lawrence // The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.    — Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Orator”[1] Photographers deal in things which are continuously vanishing.     —Henri Cartier-Bresson, “The Mind’s Eye” Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  — Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of the Future” The first…