Heather Munro Prescott: Author of new history of health centers on campuses discusses their evolution and significance

Historians in the News

In campus health centers, Heather Munro Prescott sees much more than places to promote student health. Their history reflects important societal values on the evolution of higher education in the United States, about the education of women, and about some of the most controversial social issues of the day. Prescott’s new book, Student Bodies: The Influence of Health Services in American Society and Medicine, is just out from the University of Michigan Press. Prescott, professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, responded to e-mail questions about the themes of the book.

Q: What led you to want to study student health services?

A: My interest in this subject in some ways dates back to my undergraduate years at the University of Vermont, where I was a premedical student as well as a frequent consumer of medical and counseling services. During the fall 1983 semester, when I was a sophomore, I took a course on the work of Michel Foucault, who spent part of that semester in residence in a faculty apartment in my dormitory. I was also a resident assistant on the same floor as members of the UVM rugby team. So I found myself trying to be an authority figure, while at the same time reading critiques of institutions of social control! This was also the early years of the AIDS epidemic and as you know Foucault died of that disease the following year.

By the time I finished my B.A. I had decided I wanted to do graduate work in the history of medicine rather than attend medical school. Although I did a graduate seminar paper on a typhoid epidemic at Cornell in the early 1900s, my dissertation and first book was on the subject of adolescent medicine. Student Bodies is an extension of my interest in the health care of young people in the college age group....

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