Maternal Health in the 20th Century: Historical Research in London's Wellcome Library

A photo of the 2017 London group with the NU flag

Improving maternal health was one of the recent Millennium Development Goals, but concerns regarding skilled birth attendants and women’s access to birth control began well before 1990. In this class, students considered the historical roots of what remain contemporary problems through archival research in London at the Wellcome Library archives followed by a spring quarter course here in Evanston in which they delved more deeply into these topics.

Quick facts:

  • This course was taught by Dr. Sarah Rodriguez
  • Students spent spring break in London, England with Dr. Rodriguez completing archival research at the Wellcome Library and exploring the beautiful English city
  • Students’ travel, accommodations, and programming for spring break were covered in full by the Program in Global Health Studies, generously supported by the Mabie Fund
  • Students accepted to and confirmed for the program were required to both spend the entire spring break in London and enroll in and complete the spring quarter course (GBL_HLTH 310 Supervised Global Health Research: Maternal Health in the 20th Century)
  • This course counted as a core credit towards the Global Health Studies minor; it did not count as the required international experience for the Global Health Studies minor

More on the course:

Students explored the historical roots of contemporary maternal health issues by looking at this broad international concern through a focus on three groups that joined together to work on the concern during the 1960s-1970s: the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO), and the United States Agency for Development (USAID). Specifically, students examined one of two topics: 1) the Joint Study Committee (JSG), formed between ICM and FIGO in the early 1960s to collaborate on initiatives to address high maternal mortality rates in LMICs, in particular focusing on the standardization of midwifery training; or 2) the grant provided by USAID from 1971 to 1980 to ICM and FIGO to integrate family planning into midwifery training.

The spring quarter seminar class covered ICM, FIGO, and USAID, as well as discussed historical questions raised by the primary sources viewed at the Wellcome, other primary published sources from the 1960-1970s, and secondary sources relating to the larger topics of maternal health, maternal mortality, safe motherhood, and access to birth control (then commonly called family planning). 

Schedule from spring break 2017:

Saturday, March 18-Sunday, March 19: Students fly from Chicago to London and attend a welcome dinner at Museum Tavern Bloomsbury.

Monday, March 20: First day in the archives! Students attend a presentation on the history of the library then obtain their library cards and get to work.

Tuesday, March 21: Students continue archival research in the morning, then attend a guest lecture by Dr. Megan Vaughan (Professor of African History and Health at University College London) in the afternoon.

Wednesday, March 22: Archival research continues in the morning, followed by a guest lecture by Dr. Tim Colbourn (Lecturer in Global Health Epidemiology and Evaluation at University College London Institute for Global Health).

Thursday, March 23: Students conduct more research in the archives, then experience a walking tour of medical London, led by Dr. Richard Barnett.

Friday, March 24: Last day in the archives!

Saturday, March 25: Students fly from London to Chicago

To apply:

Applications for Maternal Health in the 20th Century are currently closed. Stay up-to-date on this and other short term study/research programs offered by the Program in Global Health Studies on our website and through our e-newsletter, The Beat.

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