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The Troubled History of Alternative Medicine

March 22 @ 6:00 pm 8:00 pm

The incorporation of elements of non-Western medicine by biomedical institutions in the United States has been called complementary, integrative, or “alternative” medicine. But to offer acupuncture, yoga, or herbal medicine within a biomedical clinic is a radically different context from those in which these therapeutic practices were first developed. In this lecture, science historian Shireen Hamza will explore the long histories of these traditions, their transformation through colonialism, and the plural approach of several “people’s medicine” initiatives, including the Black Panthers. The history and philosophy of science can help us understand the epistemological and political choices behind the inclusion of certain practices, and not others, within “alternative” or “integrative” medicine today.

About the Speaker

Shireen Hamza’s dissertation project is a reassessment of the concept of “Islamic medicine” by studying this scholarly medical tradition, ?ibb, across the Indian Ocean World. Working on texts of both Galenic and Ayurvedic medicine composed in Arabic and Persian between the 13th and 15th centuries, she shows the coexistence of and exchange between multiple traditions of healing. Focusing on medicine at medieval courts, madrasas, and port cities in Yemen and Gujarat, she traces the circulation and transformation of disease categories and medicinal substances. Her work has been supported by the Social Science Research Council and the Fulbright Commission. As part of her secondary field in critical media practice, she explores questions of gender and historical memory with contemporary practitioners of Unani medicine in India. She is a managing editor for the Ottoman History Podcast, and wrote and produced Ventricles, a podcast on science outside the West.


March 22
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
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Science History Institute
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315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106 United States
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