Medicines Across Eurasia: A Digital Humanities Experiment

DATE: June 18, 2019
TIME: 4:00pm
VENUE: Room 201 at May Hall, HKU

 seminar posterAbstract:

Ancient texts document the circulation of materia medica circulate across time, across languages, across intellectual and ethnic cultures and across space. Histories have been written of single drugs, such as sugar, or coffee, or cinchona, tracking their movement across language, regions, genre and time. However, large-scale patterns of use are beyond detailed philological analysis, and multiple language surveys of the history of materia medica are rare.

This project seeks to build digital tools to study medical historical corpora at scale, using new methods for search, analysis, and visualisation. Building on an existing framework designed for Chinese primary sources, it will develop a drug-name synonymy that links ethnonyms in one ancient language to ethnonyms in other ancient languages, allowing researchers to track the historical migration of materia medica into new language corpora over time and region, and perform comparative medical history in entirely new ways. This functionality has further applications for ethnobotany and possibly for biomedical research.

Biographical sketch:

Dr. Michael Stanley-Baker is an interdisciplinary medical humanities scholar interested in the relationship between Chinese medicine and religions, both in early imperial China and in the modern period, within China and abroad. He has a PhD in History of Medicine from University College London, as well as a clinical degree in Chinese medicine, and teaches history and medical humanities at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is interested in the ways that cultural categories such as religion and medicine organize healthcare and self-cultivation practices, and how such interrelate in various contexts in different ways at different times across history, both by practitioners and actors, as well as by scholars who study them. He approaches these questions using methodologies from history, anthropology, Sinology, Science and Technology Studies, and Digital Humanities. He is also interested in the role that critical scholarship can play in the modern understanding of these practices, and in furthering communication between the biomedical sciences, policy makers, and practitioners of Chinese and other traditional medicines.