CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will host a conference on Saturday, April 27, that will look at alternative medicines and healing practices used in colonial times that many Americans are rediscovering today.

Sponsored by the OSU History Department and the university's Horning Endowment, the "Medicine and Health in Colonial North America" conference is free and open to the public.

"Many of the techniques that people are embracing today were part of mainstream medical practice during colonial times," said Robert Nye, a professor of history at OSU and one of the conference organizers. "There were strategies the colonists had to embrace for diagnosing and treating illness before modern medical institutions played a role."

A number of prominent scholars from around the U.S. will look at diverse topics ranging from John Winthrop Jr. and his role as a leading alchemy practitioner, to a modern day diagnosis of a Vermont dairy farmer who committed suicide in 1839 following his treatment and release from an asylum. The morning session, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., will look at "Medical Practice, Community and Healing Networks." Speakers and topics include:

  • "Family Competency: Scenes from the Life Cycle of Illness in 18th-Century New England," Ben M. Mutschler, OSU and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Va.


  • "Calling the Women: Women's Medical Networks in Early New England," Rebecca Tannenbaum, University of Illinois-Chicago.


  • "John Winthrop Jr., Alchemical Healing and the Medical Culture of Early New England," Walter W. Woodward, the Plimoth Plantation of Massachussetts.

Joyce E. Chaplin, of Harvard University, will provide commentary at the conclusion of the opening session.

The second session, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., will focus on "Self-Observation, Health and Mental Illness." Speakers and topics include:

  • "Taking Care of Self: Gender and the Identification of 'Distraction' in Western Massachusetts Towns," Cornelia H. Dayton, University of Connecticut.


  • "William Byrd II, Transmutation and the Promise of Preventive Medicine," Trudy Eden, University of Northern Iowa.


  • "Hiram Harwood's Mental Condition: Three Perspectives," Robert E. Shalhope, University of Oklahoma.

Charles E. Rosenberg, of Harvard University, will provide commentary at the conclusion of the second session. He is a well-known author and historian of medicine and science who is working on a book about the history of conceptions of disease.

The free public conference will be held in Memorial Union Room 208. More information on the schedule and speakers is available on the web.

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Robert Nye, 541-737-1310