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NO.404 06.19.2018

Kyung Hee and the University of Oxford engage in Joint Research on History of Medicine

On Tuesday, May 1, Kyung Hee College of Medicine and the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine (WUHM) of the University of Oxford hosted a two-day international academic seminar.

“From History to Medicine & Health” was the topic of this international seminar, which took place in a seminar room at the Kyung Hee University Medical Center. A total of nineteen respected scholars of history of medicine took to the podium to present and discuss on such issues as urban hygiene in Asia, history and policies on malaria, history of public health, history of Korean medicine, history of disease treatment, and more.


“Medicine & public health from a historical perspective”
As a research body specialized in the history of medicine, WUHM has been engaged in academic interchange with the College of Medicine in the last four years. In 2015, Kyung Hee appointed Professor Mark Harrison of the University of Oxford as an International Scholar (IS), which marked the beginning of the exchange. An authority in the historical research of disease and medicine, Professor Harrison is also the Director of WUHM. Since then, the two universities have taken turns to jointly host international seminars. In 2016, Kyung Hee organized the first academic conference, followed by Oxford playing host in 2017. As an outcome of the exchange with WUHM, Kyung Hee established the Korean Society for History of Medicine (KSHM) on June 18, 2017.


“Making strides toward modernization in the process of addressing infectious diseases”

In his keynote speech, Professor Harrison explained, “Infectious diseases spread through trade, and advances were made in public health in the effort to address the problem.” Nineteenth century Japan was cited as an example of this developmen

Due to the mounting pressure from the West to open its doors, Japan signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1858. This agreement set off a series of similar unfair treaties with the Netherlands, Russia, Great Britain, and France. The treaty forced Japan to open its ports in Yokohama, Nagasaki, and Kobe, effectively taking its first steps into the age of free trade. The problem was that the freight liners and their crews that began to frequent the trading ports carried not only cargo but also disease pathogens; infectious diseases such as cholera and venereal diseases soon pervaded Japan.

Professor Harrison said, “At the time, the British questioned Japan’s ability to properly manage an open port. Recognizing this doubt, Japan was determined to demonstrate its capability, and disease control was one of its projects.” It was during this process that Japan developed an understanding of public health, began building institutional measures and organizations for disease prevention, quarantine, and treatment. He added, “It was in the 19th century, when the country was invested in addressing and eradicating communicable diseases, that Japan was able to make big progress toward modernization.”

“Polluted drinking water spread disease, compelling the need to introduce public sanitation”
“Korea was no exception,” explained Professor Yunjae Park of the Department of History. His presentation discussed the introduction of public sanitation in Korea from 1880 to 1930, based on the course of development for organic waste disposal techniques.

Reform-minded thinkers of the 1880s believed that the unsanitary environment had to be cleaned up before the country could embark on modernizing reforms. At the time, human organic waste littered the streets and contaminated drinking water supply, causing rampant disease epidemics. One such disease was cholera, which spread rapidly in the poor public health conditions. To solve the problem of unsanitary living environment, the government began installing individual toilets in residential quarters. In addition, public health laws were enacted, and public water and sewage projects were launched.

This international conference was particularly significant, as it established a foundation for continued academic exchange and joint research between Kyung Hee’s Korean Society for History of Medicine and WUHM.

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