Examining mental health, medicine, and the history of childhood

February 6, 2023


In this episode of Spider Talks, President Kevin F. Hallock talks with professor Manuella Meyer, who specializes in the social and political history of medicine and mental illness in Latin America.

Hallock and Meyer, who is also an associate dean in the School of Arts & Sciences, discuss her research, her latest book project, and campus culture.

“My particular interests look at the embeddedness between politics and medicine, as well as the provision of public health, and specifically the provision of public health psychiatry,” Meyer said. “I look at how public health officials tried to provide interventionist methods … to secure good mental health for populations and communities.”

Meyer’s forthcoming book — Making Brazilian Children: Child Welfare and the Psychiatry of Childhood, 1922-1954 — examines the socio-political and medical terrain of mental illness in Rio de Janeiro, particularly related to children. She received a Fulbright award to support this project.

“Childhood has a history,” Meyer said. “We often think that childhood is a fixed period in time, and it is the same everywhere. That’s something I plan to untangle and examine how we see a specific focus at the turn of the 20th century in which the child and childhood becomes an emphasis of concern for nation states all around the globe.” 

Meyer has taught at the University for nearly 15 years and says one of the biggest and most positive changes she’s seen is a strengthening commitment to research across disciplines.   

“Research is not just limited to the sciences,” Meyer said. “We have students in the humanities, in the arts, and in the social sciences doing this deep intensive dive and taking real advantage of this concentration of expertise that we have on campus, so that they can figure out the critical questions and discoveries for themselves.”


This is the third episode from Season 5 of Spider Talks and the 32nd interview in the series. Spider Talks has featured faculty from all five schools and many majors. Episodes of Spider Talks are published on UR Now.