Ultra Long Term Health Effects of Slavery

This is a post I wrote on the Economics, Psychology, Policy blog, which I got involved with via rather tangential links with  the UCD Geary Institute – Liam Delaney, who I got to know then, was then  Prof of Behavioural Economics in Stirling University and the blog seems now to be part of the Stirling course – but now it seems Liam is back in UCD!

I have a weakness for sword’n’sandal type historical fiction set in Ancient Rome. One author I particularly enjoy is Steven Saylor who writes detective novels set in Ancient Rome, which manage to combine a modern sensibility – with the archetypal cynical, Sam Spadeish detective hero – with a real immersion into the foreign world of the classical past. The most recent book of his I’ve read, Arms of Nemesis, really brought home how horrific it must have been to be a slave. And it got me thinking – millions of people, possibly the majority in the classical world (as far as I recall, the number of Athenian citizens, who were of course all free males, was a tenth of the number of Athenian slaves) lived in this state of permanent insecurity, literally dehumanised and debased.

This, to say the least, can’t help but have had some profound psychological effects. And considering that, presumably, of people alive at the present moment, a good proportion have slavery somewhere, perhaps very deep, in their ancestry, perhaps this underlies many of the enduring psychological difficulties we call personality disorders. After all, we are still only beginning to realise the intergenerational effects of traumas such as the post World War II exodus and expulsions of Germans from Eastern Europe Martin’s post on the enduring health effects of 9/11 rekindled this train of thought.

Obviously in the U.S. there’s an ongoing controversy about reparations for slavery, the assets of companies who profited even indirectly during the Holocaust, and other such issues. Perhaps we should all try and lobby the Italian government for reparations from the slave holding of the Ancient Romans!


A Medical Informatics Education, 1996.

Today I walked to UCD much as I did nearly 20 years ago on 21st September 1996, to begin college. This time I was walking not to Belfield itself, but to UCD Nexus, located a little further on in Belfield Office Park, for a meeting in my new roles as CCIO liaison to ARCH (if that’s too many acronyms, don’t ask)

Various nostalgic impressions mingled. Cyclists seem more aggressive than they were. UCD is a slicker operation and more given to self-promotion than it was. It had been a while since I had actually walked through campus; the last few times I had driven in, found parking near-impossible, gone to a meeting, and left. Belfield seemed to have become a bit like Docklands , a rather alienating landscape dominated by massive buildings without human scale.


Walking through, however, I find Belfield reassuringly unchanged at its core. The Science Block has greatly expanded, but the central lecture theatre structure is unchanged. The Arts Block, the fundamental library structure, the lake, the restaurant – all are different only superficially. The cafe that was officially known as “Finnegan’s Break” and was always called “Hilpers” is now gone.

I was also a little taken aback by how much human interaction there was. I expected serried ranks of screen-focused students. In the restaurant, I saw only one person texting while talking to here friends, and while that wouldn’t have happened in 1996, it would have in 2000. A few years ago there were PC terminals all over the place, which seem to have largely disappeared.

Given the nature of of the  meeting I was going to, I thought about one of the academic highlights of that first year of medicine; medical informatics. This was a subject which, frankly, was much derided. Why? Because it seemed irrelevant, I think, somewhat beneath those who knew anything much about computers and somewhat irksome to those who didn’t. Crucially, I can’t recall anything specifically medical about medical informatics.

We had lecturers on what a CPU was and so forth (more of which anon) and workshops on the use of Word, Excel, Access and the other Microsoft biggies at the time. The undoubted highpoint was the lecturer, Mel ´Ó Cinneide, suddently pulling  a mouse out of his pocket with the immortal words “for those who haven’t seen one, this is a mouse.”

Now, the wheel has come full circle; one wonders how many of a laptop and tablet focused cohort of students would have seen a mouse. UCD Netsoc was, for a few years, the only way to get internet access as a student, and the enthusiastic queued up from early morning to get an account.

As with many other pre clinical subjects at the time, Medical Informatices teaching was by academics in their specific discipline who no doubt found the prospect of teaching medical students even less enticing than teaching students who at least were pursuing the subject at more length.

In subsequent years, Medical Informatics was revamped and, I gather, made more clinically relevant. And now as Ireland slouches towards eHealth the relevance of IT to medicine is much more obvious. I am sure that Medical Informatics in UCD and equivalent courses in other medical schools is now taught in a clinically relevant, pedagogically sound manner with defined learning objectives and so forth. Nevertheless, I have my doubts that in twenty years anyone will recall a moment from this teaching as vividly as what would (mostly) be the class of 02 recall Mel whipping out the mouse.