Can Reading Make You Sick? – The Strange History of the Idea of Books as a Cause of Disease with Historian of Medicine Dr. James Kennaway
Illustrated Lecture with Dr James Kennaway, Historian of Medicine, Newcastle University
Date: Saturday, September 5th
Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn NY
Tickets Here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2080872
This talk will look at the history of the remarkably extensive discussion of the idea that reading can cause real illness. Few people today worry about books as a threat to health and morals, but before the cinema and the internet, books were constantly under suspicion as a source of hysteria, not to mention a whole range of other conditions including hypochondria, nervousness, gout, jaundice, haemorrhoids, and diseases of the lungs, eyes and digestion. Some of this medical hostility focused on the diseases of intellectuals, with their “excessive” thinking and sedentary lifestyles. Other critics worried more about young women being over-stimulated by reading about love in novels. By the late nineteenth century, certain kinds of “sick books” were incorporated into the debate on “degenerate culture” and its threat not only to individual health but to social order.
Dr James Kennaway is a Historian of Medicine at Newcastle University, having previously worked at Oxford, Stanford and Vienna. His book Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease examined fears that music could cause hysteria, brainwashing and even death. He is currently working on a project on the “Fashionable Diseases” of Georgian Britain.