Research News

Student project explores health, wellness through historical objects

Clockwise from left, medicial gourd, animal sculpture, tobacco jar, bronze medical implements, human figure, leech jar.

Clockwise from left: medical gourd, animal sculpture, tobacco jar, bronze medical implements, human figure, leech jar. Photos: Nicholas Ostness.

UBNOW STAFF

Published August 3, 2021

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UB anthropology and museum studies students, inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, spent the spring semester exploring the topics of health and wellness through a diverse collection of objects from the UB Art Galleries and the UB Libraries.

Their work, “Discussing Health and Wellness Virtually,” can be viewed on the UB Art Galleries’ website.

The virtual exhibition by students in the combined Anthropology Museum Studies course and the interdisciplinary master’s program in Critical Museum Studies features a selection of objects from the Cravens Collection and Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection.

The Cravens Collection, housed in the UB Anderson Gallery, comprises more than 1,100 artifacts from across the globe and represents 10,000 years of human achievements; the Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection, housed in the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection in Abbott Library, contains more than 150 medical instruments spanning the Classical Period to the 19th century.

A 19th century surgicak kit.

19th-century surgical kit. Photo: Nicholas Ostness

The students’ research explored various concepts of health, well-being and diseases through a diverse group of archaeological and historical objects dating from the Late Roman Period to the early 20th century and spanning Africa, the Americas and Europe.

The pandemic inspired the students’ selection of health and wellness as their research topic, says Emily Reynolds, marketing and communications manager for the UB Art Galleries. And since they had conducted their research virtually, they also decided to present their work in a digital format, rather than through a standard physical exhibition, Reynolds adds.

Zoom image: Students explored various concepts of health, well-being and diseases by researching a diverse group of archaeological and historical objects dating from the Late Roman Period to the early 20th century and spanning Africa, the Americas and Europe. Photos by Ashley Cercone Various health and wellness objects examined by students.

Students explored various concepts of health, well-being and diseases by researching a diverse group of archaeological and historical objects dating from the Late Roman Period to the early 20th century and spanning Africa, the Americas and Europe. Photos by Ashley Cercone

Among the objects examined by students were vessels for medicine, including a gourd vessel, miniature flask, zoomorphic figure and leech jar; surgical tools for everyday life and urgent procedures, including a set of three Roman instruments and a George Tiemann & Co. surgical kit; objects used in seeking fertility and agricultural abundance, such as a Legba fetish and Iagalagana figure; and items of protective or good energy, including a lidded vessel. Collectively, the objects tell stories of how humans have sought to heal and protect themselves and ensure the same for their progeny through resourcefulness, ingenuity and spiritual exploration.

The project was directed by Peter Biehl, professor of anthropology and associate dean for international education and enrollment in the College of Arts and Sciences, and curated by Ashley Cercone, the Cravens Collection graduate assistant and a doctoral student in the anthropology department. Student curators in UB’s Critical Museum Studies program are Joshua Albanese,

Jordan Anthony, Alek Brusgul, Andy D’Agostino, Soli Foster Lopez, Nina Grenga, Mary Himes, Fiona Jones, Devon Marr, Amy Ressler and Olivia Trometer. UB Art Galleries Director Robert Scalise, Curator of Exhibitions Liz Park, Marketing Manager Emily Reynolds and Registrar Nicholas Ostness served as advisers on the project.