We are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2023 W. Curtis Worthington, Jr. Essay Contest, organized by the Waring Historical Library in conjunction with the Waring Library Society. This contest encourages students to delve into the history of health sciences and recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of medical history scholarship. After careful evaluation by our panel of judges, we have selected the winner and an honorable mention for this year's competition.
Winner of the Undergraduate Award: Jessie Liu for her exceptional essay titled "Medical Misogyny, Feminist Science, and Breaking the Cycle: The Development of Premenstrual Syndrome in the 20th Century."
Jessie Liu (she/her/hers) is a senior at Harvard College from Seattle, WA studying History and Science on the Medicine and Society track, with a secondary in Mind, Brain, and Behavior. Her honors thesis situates the medical management of the "rape kit" within the development of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) profession and forensic nursing from the 1970s-2000s in North America. As she is deeply passionate about reproductive health, rights, and justice, Jessie serves as the Co-President of the Harvard chapter of the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition and volunteers as a Medical Advocate at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). She has also conducted research on the policy determinants of sexual and reproductive health equity with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. On campus, she is the Co-Director of the Wellness Educators and a Senior Editor at the Harvard Health Policy Review, as well as a tutor with PBHA's Chinatown Citizenship program. As an aspiring physician, she hopes to contribute to transformative health systems-level work and continue advocating for the communities she cares about.
In her paper, Jessie Liu examined the formalization of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) as a diagnosis during the early 20th century. She explored the contentious etiology of PMS, which has been described as a result of hormonal imbalances, somatization of emotional conflict, and a "culture-bound disorder" with gendered undertones. Analyzing sources from different time periods, she argued that characterizations of PMS shifted from psychoanalytic and psychosomatic perspectives to biomedical approaches over six decades, influenced by societal changes and feminist movements. The paper highlights the ongoing complexities surrounding PMS and its implications for women's health and rights.
Honorary Mention: Simar Bajaj for his commendable essay titled "Playing into the Hands of the Devil: The Tobacco Lobby, Broadcast Advertising, and the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 ."
Simar Bajaj is a senior at Harvard College, studying Chemistry and the History of Science, and an award-winning journalist. His work has previously appeared in The Atlantic, Guardian, TIME Magazine, Washington Post, Nature Medicine, and New England Journal of Medicine.
In his piece, Simar Bajaj investigated the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969, which banned cigarette ads from airing on television and radio, and how this legislation paradoxically benefited the tobacco industry. In particular, he analyzed Senate testimonies and the dominant media theories of the 1960s and 1970s, arguing that Congress underestimated the public's critical thinking abilities and actually undermined anti-smoking campaigns. This piece feels particularly relevant today, not only because of the tobacco industry's continued influence over public affairs but also because of the broader need for improved science communication with infectious diseases, climate change, and other crises.
We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the winner and the honorary mention for their remarkable achievements in exploring the United States-Atlantic World History of Health Sciences in the modern era - from the late 1600s to the present. The essays shed light on fascinating aspects of the history of medicine, and we are immensely grateful for their contributions to scholarship. Each submission was evaluated based on its originality, depth of research, and the ability to engage readers with compelling insights into the history of health sciences. The selection process was challenging, and we want to acknowledge and commend all participants for their dedication and hard work.
We also extend our gratitude to the Waring Library Society for their generous support in making this contest possible. Their commitment to promoting historical scholarship has been instrumental in fostering a spirit of inquiry and curiosity among students.
Future Opportunities: For those who did not win this time, we encourage you to keep exploring and engaging with history. The W. Curtis Worthington, Jr. Essay Contest will return in the future, providing another chance for students to showcase their research and contribute to the rich tapestry of historical knowledge.
Once again, congratulations to the winners and honorary mention of the 2023 W. Curtis Worthington, Jr. Essay Contest. Your contributions will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the field of historical scholarship.
For more updates and information about future events and opportunities, please visit the Waring Historical Library's blog at https://bit.ly/WHLblog.
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