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University of Windsor

Cultures of Health Web site goes "live and plugged"

History professor Steven Palmer, Canada Research Chair in History of International Health, has launched an innovative Web site he hopes will build a research discussion network among those working on medicine and health issues with a historical eye.

Billed as a “historical anthology”, Cultures of Health (http://hih.uwindsor.ca), is an on-line research magazine and database. According to Dr. Palmer, the field of history of medicine and health already enjoys excellent electronic journals, list-serves, bulletin boards, conference proceedings, institutional sites and collections.

“As our ideas for this site developed, we saw a need for a kind of on-line research magazine that could accommodate eclectic fragments and work-in-progress presented by researchers of all kinds, and quickly get them up and circulating in a pleasing format," he says. “We hope that this site will be particularly suited to generating contributions by student researchers.”

Cultures of Health is one of the main products of a $184,000 grant for the development of research infrastructure from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. The site will be a high-profile portal for findings generated by researchers working with Palmer on wide-ranging topics in the field of medicine and public health. Collaborators at the University of Windsor include graduate students in history, sociology and law, and senior undergraduates in history and law.

Internationally, Palmer has plugged the Web site into a network of scholars, with a special focus on the large team of historians and social scientists at Fiocruz, Brazil’s state agency for research in health sciences.

“The idea for this Web site grew out of conversations with some really imaginative people in the field of health research,” says Palmer. He particularly credits Adrian Lopez Denis of Brown University and Gilberto Hochman and Nisia Trindade Lima at Fiocruz.

The academic anthology format is one that Palmer has worked with successfully in the past, in particular on his best-selling book, The Costa Rica Reader: History, Culture,Politics.

“It’s a very flexible format, and it lets you jump into any topic as long as the frame is right. Designing the Web site was all about finding that frame,” he says.

The Cultures of Health anthology is linked to a digital collections site designed to be a repository of more complete series of electronic material available to researchers on-line. Palmer’s first major foray into creating such a database will be to archive a large sample of the clinical notebooks of Juan Santos Fernandez, an important 19th-century specialist from Cuba who was one of the pioneers of the discipline of tropical medicine, and founder of the first bacteriological institute in the Americas.