SOULS, FOOD
NLM Exhibit Provides Backstory, Complexity to What We Know About Slavery

Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson talks food and freedom in an NLM lecture.
Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson talks food and freedom in an NLM lecture.

PHOTO: BILL BRANSON

By about 4:30 a.m. every day, two colonial- era cooks—Nathan and Lucy, both slaves—were well into their typical work day on Mount Vernon plantation near Alexandria, Va. We know from historical record that a cook’s duties would have included lighting fires in the kitchen hearth for breakfast prep, and perhaps in the dining room for warmth of those seated to eat. We know what routine morning meals might have included—some kind of freshly baked bread, certainly a hot drink. We even know favorite foods of homeowner George Washington—he was partial to a drink/broth he called “mint water.” But what else do we know about Nathan and Lucy? And what insight on the period might research on food provide?

“Even as you arise and go about your day, start your commute, you’re bringing with you your histories, your traumas, your creativities—all of the things that make you you,” explained Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson in a lecture Nov. 3 introducing a recent exhibit at the National Library of Medicine. “How much more then would enslaved people do the same?”

Associate professor and chair of American studies at the University of Maryland, Williams-Forson served as guest curator of “Fire and Freedom: Food and Enslavement in Early America,” a special display in the NLM reading room that aims to provide context—some backstories—to the bare-bones narrative many people have about the roughly 300 years in early American history when it was commonplace for humans to own other humans.

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PROBABILISTIC MEDICINE
How ‘Big, Messy Data’ Can Guide Psychiatric Treatment

Dr. Roy Perlis
Dr. Roy Perlis

Psychiatry is an inexact science. Sometimes doctors must make educated guesses based on limited data. This scenario happened to Boston psychiatrist Dr. Roy Perlis, whose research focuses on treatment- resistant mood disorders. Frustrated after his lab’s large genomics studies failed to identify depression genes, Perlis began thinking outside the biomarker box.

“We’re always reasoning under conditions of uncertainty,” said Perlis, director, Center for Quantitative Health in Massachusetts General Hospital’s division of clinical research. “The genomics of psychiatric disease has turned out to be much harder than I think any one of us anticipated.”

Perlis, who also teaches psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, spoke at the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series at the Neuroscience Center on Oct. 26.

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