2023 Helfand Fellow Presentation - A Portrait Of Tuberculosis (As A Young Microbe): Representing Consumption At The Turn Of The Twentieth Century

Sean Purcell

New York Academy of Medicine

Thursday, December 7, 2023 4:00 pm EST

Online event, register here.

This will be a virtual event. Login information will be included in your confirmation email.
The event is free.
Register here.
In this talk, Sean Purcell examines the imaging techniques employed by U.S. medical researchers studying tuberculosis in the years following Koch’s 1882 discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. A range of different actors—scientists, medical practitioners, public health workers, and volunteer organizations—employed a variety of visual representations to make arguments about the disease during this time period. By looking at images published in scientific monographs, magazines for tuberculous patients, and pamphlets authored by public health organizations, Purcell articulates an increased need for nuance regarding medicine’s visual culture and proposes a new framework for images found in medical science publications. 
This framework, the pathological portrait, expands on Megan O’Connor’s conception of the clinical photograph and Michel Foucault’s clinical gaze, and connects objectifying practices in medical research and diagnosis to the practices of portraiture in the nineteenth century. The framework explores the relationship between (sitting) subject and (medical) object and enables a different approach to understanding how patients’ bodies were marshaled to study tuberculosis.
About the Speaker
Sean Purcell is a PhD candidate at Indiana University-Bloomington’s Media School. Mixing arts-based methods with cultural studies approaches to representational technology, his scholarship interrogates the moments in medical research when human subjects are transformed into research objects. His work has been published in Game Studies and Epoiesen. His dissertation is titled The Tuberculosis Specimen: The Dying Body and its Use in the War Against the “Great White Plague”.