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New guest researcher at Historical Studies


The Department of Historical Studies welcomes guest researcher Sasha Mullally, Associate Professor at the University of New Brunswick. During her stay she will explore the use of "therapeutic craft" in turn of the century health care facilities, tracing the common ideological roots of vocational education and occupational therapy.
‘These transatlantic connections are important and historically resonant,’ says Mullally.

What is your background?

'I received my doctorate in 2005 from the University of Toronto, where I was trained in Canadian and American history, with a specialization in the social history of medicine. I’ve spent my career bridging the health sciences and humanities. My first two academic jobs were cross-appointments, where my position was shared between faculties of medicine/health sciences and arts: first at McMaster University’s History of Medicine Unit and then at the University of Alberta’s History of Medicine Program, where I served as co-director. Since 2009, I’ve held a position in the Department of History at the University of New Brunswick, where I am now an Associate Professor'

What are your research areas?

'Within the history of medicine, there are many sub-specialties. My thesis work, and the topic of my first book (forthcoming University of Toronto Press), was the history of rural medicine. I examined the structure of medical practices that underwent significant transformation in northeastern North America over 1900 to 1950. Over these decades, the site of medicine moved from patient bedsides to centralized hospitals and clinics, a long and fascinating process that is oversimplified by the persistent iconography of the heroic, hard-travelling “country doctor.” Following from this interest in health care access, I became involved in a collaborative research project with colleagues at McGill University. This project explores the immigration of physicians to Canada during the inaugural period of our universal health care system in 1968, and how this affected service access.

My most recent research interest examines the history of “therapeutic craft.” One of the rural physicians I researched for my first book used weaving as to treat chronic illness, and this led me to an interest in early occupational therapy, which began to professionalize in North America over the interwar period. Early occupational therapy programs, sometimes called “work cure” programs before the First World War, formalized a series of convalescent and rehabilitation practices around textile production, metalworking, carpentry and ceramics. I am discovering the ways in which these early programs, which often focused on the creation of “traditional” arts and crafts, were intimately tied up with ideals of productive citizenship and shaped by a form of liberal therapeutics.'

What will you be focusing on while in Gothenburg?

'I am interested in working with Anders Ottosson to learn more about the history of Swedish “slöjd”, vocational arts and crafts, especially the programs developed by Otto Salomon at Nääs Castle from the turn of the last century into the 1920s. As many education historians have noted, Salomon’s programs garnered a lot of interest among British, American, and Canadian vocational educators of the day. But there is an important connection to rehabilitation medicine. Interestingly, one of the early proponents of occupational therapy in Canada, Thomas Kidner, was a proponent of vocational slöjd before he turned his attention to rehabilitation and health care. One of the legacies of slöjd was its ability to marshal arts and crafts for rehabilitation purposes. Kidner was not alone. Correspondence between Salomon and many other educators and clinicians in North America a century ago, collected and held at the Gothenburg state archives, will help me trace the network of slöjd purveyors who can then be located within clinical networks overseas. This will assist in the process of uncovering the common ideological roots of therapeutic craft in occupational therapy and slöjd within vocational education. These transatlantic connections are important and historically resonant. A colleague of mine at McGill told me recently that “every Jewish high school in Montreal in the 1950s had a slöjd room!” I am making it my mission to understand why, and in the process see how the story of what we might call “transatlantic slöjd” can help connect the principals and practices of vocationalism and rehabilitation in the early 20th century.'

What are you hoping to take from this experience?

'In addition to research potential of my stay at the University of Gothenburg, making connections to researchers who are interested in the social and cultural history of health is a priority. I am interested in learning more about the courses and programs offered within and through the Department of Historical Studies, and would welcome the opportunity to forge links to my home History Department at the University of New Brunswick, where Atlantic region and trans-Atlantic World history are prominent fields, along with the social history of medicine and disability. These connections might facilitate faculty and student exchange. Through guest lectures and by helping to organize a history of medicine symposium on October 25, I’m also seeking interested in both soliciting feedback and instigating conversations with Swedish colleagues who share similar intellectual interests. So, thanks for having me as a visiting professor and I am very much looking forward to my stay at the University of Gothenburg!'