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Passings: Professor Gina Feldberg led the York Centre for Health Studies

Passings: Professor Gina Feldberg led the York Centre for Health Studies

Professor Gina Feldberg, a faculty member in the Health & Society Program in the Department of Social Science in York's Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, died on Saturday, July 10, after a long illness. She was 54 years old.

Prof. Feldberg made a significant mark at York University. She spent a decade at Harvard, first as an undergraduate in biology, then as a graduate student in the history of science and medicine. When settling on a dissertation topic, Prof. Feldberg chose to explore differing American and Canadian approaches to the control of tuberculosis (TB) in the first half of the 20th century. Her husband, Rob Vipond, said that even her historian colleagues wondered why she had chosen to write on such an unfashionable disease as TB. Yet within a few years, the disease was resurgent, TB was “hot” in historical circles, and Prof. Feldberg’s dissertation, now a book titled Disease and Class (1995), had captured the Jason Hannah Medal from the Royal Society of Canada for the best book in the history of medicine.

Right: Prof. Gina Feldberg

Prof. Feldberg's gift for engaging students in the area of health & society was recognized through a faculty-wide award for outstanding teaching in 1990. She was particularly proud of the graduate students whom she mentored. She led the York Centre for Health Studies (now the York Institute for Health Research) through a critical decade of rebuilding health studies at the University, then managed a large and complex research grant on women’s health from 1992 until 2001. At the time of her death, Prof. Feldberg was about to begin a research leave to finish work on an inspired project on the history of salads.

In addition to her colleagues and hundreds of former students, Prof. Feldberg leaves her husband Rob Vipond and their daughter Susanna. A memorial service will be held for Prof. Feldberg in the fall.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Prof. Feldberg's honour can be made to the Princess Margaret Hospital, 610 University Ave., Toronto, for research in multiple myeloma; St. Stephen's Community House, 91 Bellevue Ave., Toronto; or the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 10 Garden St., Cambridge, MA.

Professor Feldberg was also remembered in an obituary published in The Globe and Mail:

It's safe to say that tuberculosis is not a subject of great interest for most folks – unless, of course, you or a loved one actually has it. Often associated with filth, squalor and Dickensian living conditions, TB, at least in the industrialized world, is commonly, and erroneously, thought to have vanished with consumptive Victorians, and good riddance.

For Gina Feldberg, TB's persistence and treatment were treasure troves, offering up mountains of information on social reform, middle-class values, personal hygiene, and public health policy. She believed that as with AIDS, tuberculosis served as a metaphor for other social ills, and that perhaps like no other disease helped shape modern North American values.

She was a historian of science, specifically of medicine and more specifically of infectious diseases. A probing, inventive scholar, she examined the interplay of illness, class, and the practice of medicine, and how those combine to affect the health of nations.

"If we want policy to be effective," she said, boiling it down, "we need to know why it looks the way that it looks and how we can change it."

At Toronto's York University, where she taught in the Department of Social Science and for nine years headed the Centre for Health Studies [now the York Institute for Health Research], she also weighed in on a host of public issues, including women's health, AIDS and Canada's health-care system.

Feldberg, who died in Toronto on July 10 at the age of 54 following a four-year battle with multiple myeloma, focused on the differing American and Canadian approaches to the control of TB in the first half of the 20th century.

The full obituary is available on the Globe's website.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.