Matthew Ramsey, emeritus professor of history and founding director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, has died

Matthew Ramsey, emeritus professor of history and founding director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, has died

Matthew Ramsey

Matthew Ramsey, professor emeritus of history and medicine, health and society, who taught at Vanderbilt for more than three decades and was founding director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, died Sept. 2. He was 73 years old.

Among Ramsey’s specialties were the history of modern France and the history of medicine and public health. His 1988 book, Professional medicine and popular medicine in France 1770-1830: the social world of medical practice, has become a reference in the field. He has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters and reviews, and has been an active speaker and consultant in North America and Europe.

“His scholarship was profound and groundbreaking,” said Michael Bess, the Chancellor’s history professor, who was a longtime colleague. “Matt was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He had the kind of mind that went effortlessly through the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities – he could pass in a single sentence from the cellular bases of memory via the long-term potentiation of potassium channels to the fine points of Jürgen Habermas’ debates with Foucault on the nature of public space.

A polymath with an insatiable curiosity, Ramsey’s passion for interdisciplinary studies inspired him to establish the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt in 2003, serving as founding director until 2006. Now a department, it is a center for innovative research and teaching that crosses traditional academic boundaries.

“He was one of the most brilliant historians of his generation, a scholar endowed with extraordinary insight and an astonishing breadth of knowledge,” said Thomas Schwartz, professor emeritus of history. “He was also an exemplary citizen of Vanderbilt, having played a leading role in both the creation of the Medicine, Health and Society program, one of the college’s most popular, and in the development of the residential college curriculum. . But above all, I will remember him as an extraordinarily kind and caring man who was always generous with his colleagues and friends, ready to help when they faced challenges in their careers.

Ramsey was born in 1948 in New York and grew up in Leonia, New Jersey. He graduated from Harvard University in 1969 and continued his graduate studies at Harvard, earning his doctorate. in 1978. He remained at Harvard as an assistant professor before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1984.

During his career at Harvard and Vanderbilt, he was a visiting scholar and professor at Princeton University; was Visiting Fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London; and was visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has received grants and fellowships to continue his work from the National Institutes of Health, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society, among others. For 14 years, he served on the editorial board of the journal Medical background.

Ramsey was deeply involved in the history department at Vanderbilt, where he spent time as director of the honors program, director of undergraduate studies, and director of graduate studies. Outside of the department, in addition to his role in the birth of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, Ramsey played a vital role in the initial planning of Vanderbilt’s residential college system and served as chairman of the Faculty Senate. In 2007, he won the Thomas Jefferson Award, given annually for “distinguished service to Vanderbilt through extraordinary contributions as a faculty member of the university’s councils and government.”

Ramsey is survived by his wife, Linda; sister, Judith Ramsey Ehrlich; son, David; and grandchildren, Marigold and Cosmo.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, September 24 at 10 a.m. at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, where Ramsey was a longtime member. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to the Parkinson’s Foundation or Vanderbilt University Medical Center Giving (use “other” to specify Vanderbilt Parkinson’s Disease Center).

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