Monday, October 4, 2010

18th Nat'l Conference on Civil War Medicine - Summary #3 - A "Louse-y" War!

The first lecture on Sunday morning, Oct 3, by Gary L. Miller, Ph.D. - "Pandemonium on a Spree - Insects and the Civil War" - was one of the VERY BEST of the conference!

Dr. Miller was born and bred in Lancaster Co., PA. His appreciation for the connections between biology and history was influenced by the rich natural history and heritage of the Pennsylvania Dutch farm country and he traces his interest in the Civil War before kindergarten! He earned his Ph.D. in Entomology from Auburn University in 1991 and he is currently and entomologist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland.

You can read more about his responsibilities and distinguished career here and here.

His presentation introduced a number of concepts and topics, all with his extensive background and expertise, but delivered in an enthusiastic and interesting manner :

The conditions that made the Civil War - camps , prisons, and battlefields - prime territory for disease-carrying insects, including the mass of humanity and poor sanitary conditions

Mentions of insects - flies, lice, fleas, bees, beetles, bedbugs, cockroaches (and more!) - in soldier letters and memoirs.

The emergence of entomology as a scientific discipline and profession

Insects as pests and also as disease vectors

Displayed numerous Civil War photos from the Library of Congress collection and used the high quality images to "zero in" on interesting insect, sanitary, and botanical considerations!

Talked about the techniques soldiers used to de-louse

He also displayed his great collection of wartime lice combs (ewwww?!) and some patriotic covers with an insect theme!

The full text of Dr. Miller's excellent article: "Historical Natural History: Insects and the Civil War," American Entomologist, 43:227-245, can be found online here.

There were some military veterans in the audience and several of them commented that soldier, sailor, marine, and airmen problems with insects was not limited to the Civil War! Very interesting!

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