Diseases That Shaped History: New exhibit opens at UAB

A new exhibit is a crossover between medicine and Art

New exhibit at UAB highlights diseases

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Bubonic plague. Small pox. Syphilis.

Three scary sounding diseases, but each have shaped history and modern medicine.

The impact the illnesses have made on our society is documented in record books, historical illustrations, artifacts, and even satirical cartoons.

That’s why four student curators at UAB have created a special exhibit showcasing exactly that, using articles and artifacts that are all from the collections within UAB.

“We wanted to do something that might be interesting to the general public. Epidemic diseases always get people’s interest we think. It’s still something we can deal with today,” says Art History student Tina Ruggieri. “We have cancer and HIV, so it’s still in the medical day medical field, but these are the historical ones.”

UAB Student curators create exhibit showcasing diseases that shaped history
UAB Student curators create exhibit showcasing diseases that shaped history (Source: shilo)

Ruggieri and her fellow student curators Kelsey Jones, Oakleigh Pinson, and Brooklynne Todd chose the topics and diseases to help showcase the resources of UAB’S Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, and the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences.

“We chose these because they are more visually apparent, they are diseases that manifest on the outside we thought that would give us a lot of imagery, being art historical students we love the visual,” says Ruggieri.

She created the small pox portion of the exhibit. The topics though are admittedly out of her comfort zone.

“For me this is very out of my area of expertise and area of general interest. I realized the wealth of resources that are here, and I was able to truly tell the story that I wanted to tell by using the visual aspects and using the objects and using books and I think that is important because sometimes history can get lost,” says Ruggieri.

The students hope the exhibit will give visitors more knowledge about these illnesses and how the treatments led to breakthroughs that modern medicine still benefits from including: vaccines, the discovery of penicillin, and new ideas about sexually transmitted diseases.

Inside the syphilis portion of the exhibit are artifacts like medicine bottles with mercury and arsenic which were used in early treatments. There also are devices that were used for bloodletting during bubonic plague treatments.

The small pox case includes a jarring historical cartoon about vaccines, and the practice of testing them on babies. Though it’s more than 200 years old, the illustration is encapsulates the fears some parents still have over vaccinations today.

An Address to the British Parliament on Vaccination, 1808 Ferdinand Smyth Stuart, ESQ Reynolds-Finley Historical Library
An Address to the British Parliament on Vaccination, 1808 Ferdinand Smyth Stuart, ESQ Reynolds-Finley Historical Library

Every artifact came from collections in The Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences and the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library.

The student curators hope the exhibit will bring awareness about the UAB resources that are available to everyone.

“It is for the public, it’s also for people at UAB,” says Ruggieri. “It highlights what each of these collections have and people know that they can come here to do research and expand their knowledge on their areas of interest.”

To read Ruggieri’s paper on the Small Pox click here.

Copyright 2018 WBRC. All rights reserved.