The University Record, April 19, 1999

Physician-historian among first to receive New York Library fellowship

By John Woodford
News and Information Services

Howard Markel, associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of history, recently was named one of the first 15 Fellows of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers.

Markel has written on American immigration and health in the 19th century and says he will use the fellowship "to extend my research into the 20th century and up to the present."

Other inaugural fellows include architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, author Francine Prose, Harvard historian Sven Beckert and attorney and former Black Panther Party leader Kathleen Cleaver, who is a visiting professor at Yale.

Markel and the other recipients of the fellowships will take up residence Sept. 13. During the 1999-2000 academic year, they will have access to the library's collections, an individual office with an Internet connection and a stipend of $50,000 for the period of residence.

A practicing pediatrician, Markel treats immigrant patients at Freedom House in Detroit and says today's immigrants to metropolitan Detroit include Africans from Rwanda and the Congo, Eastern Europeans from Bosnia ("and probably soon from Kosovo"), and many individuals from Central and South American countries.

"Despite the many differences in culture and background between them and the Jewish, Eastern European, Mexican and Chinese immigrants from the early part of this century," Markel says, "the continuities are as remarkable as the differences."

Like earlier immigrants, many of the recent newcomers are escaping persecution and harsh economic realities, he notes, "and they have the hope--the desire--to build a new and better life, especially for their children, and that speaks to me very strongly as a pediatrician."

Recent immigrants tend not to have the kinds of medical problems common in the earlier era--ailments like cholera, typhus, trachomatous eye infections, hookworm and ringworm. But more are likely to suffer symptoms resulting from physical abuse and torture, Markel says.

"America is still a land of opportunity for the oppressed," Markel says. "If we are to continue to have an open door for such people, we must still protect the public health, which means we must update our quarantine and other public health policies. That will be part of my research, too."

In addition to numerous articles for publications ranging from The Lancet to the Washington Post, Markel is the author of Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892; The Practical Pediatrician: The A to Z Guide to Your Child's Health, Behavior and Safety; The Portable Pediatrician; and The H.L. Mencken Baby Book.

Markel has received the Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Award and the Shannon Director's Award of the National Institutes of Health. In 1999, he was named a Centennial Historian of the City of New York.

The NYPL Center's mission, according to assistant director Pamela Leo, is "to foster creative writing, to advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and to sponsor events that will engage the Fellows and the broad public served by the Library."

The new Center was made possible by a $10 million gift from Library Trustee Dorothy Cullman and her husband Lewis B. Cullman, in honor of Brooke Russell Astor, and by gifts of $3.4 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and $3 million from the estate of Margaret Liebman Berger.