New Faculty
Harold J. Cook The John F. Nickoll Professor of History Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Harold J. Cook
The John F. Nickoll Professor of History

By Deborah Baum  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Harold Cook is interested in the history of medicine and science because of the many things it can reveal about the past.

“Medicine is one of those topics that pulls together all aspects of human life,” said Cook, the John F. Nickoll Professor of History. “It includes not only science and clinical skills, but religion, politics, and economics. You name it — every part of human life enters into medical relationships and health and disease.”

An early modern historian, Cook examines the scientific revolution of the 17th century through the lens of the medical community. His work began with a look at England to understand how the medical marketplace affected medical ideas and practices and went on to explore connections and comparisons with The Netherlands. More recently, Cook has focused on the Dutch Golden Age, and how commerce — not religion — inspired the rise of science and medicine in the 16th and 17th centuries. That work led to his third book, Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (Yale University Press, 2007), which won several awards, including the Pfizer Prize for the History of Science Society and a commendation from the British Medical Association.

Cook’s current work examines global information systems and how things such as words and goods have translated across cultures (for example, translating concepts of Chinese medicine into European languages).

Cook comes to Brown from the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, where since 2000 he served as director and the professor of the history of medicine. Cook attended Cornell College as an undergraduate and earned a Ph.D in history from the University of Michigan. He previously served on the faculty at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma.

Cook will represent the field of the history of medicine for the first time at Brown. He will serve on the Committee on Science and Technology Studies and hopes to work closely with undergraduates and medical students, as well as history graduate students.

“The idea is to use my position in history to try to work with other departments and faculty to stimulate an interest in the historical past,” he said. “Brown is a place with enormous intellectual vibrancy. I think that research and teaching go together and this is one of those places that really represents that.”