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Living History

ONU pharmacy professor Dr. David Kinder looks to the past to teach the pharmacists of the future.

Experiential learning is a hallmark of an Ohio Northern University education. Our students learn best by doing, by being hands-on. Their courses take them into the real world, where they apply the concepts and methods they learn in the classroom to real problems in need of solving.

Turns out, this is true of our faculty as well, even if the experience seems well outside the realm of relevancy.

Most days, Dr. David Kinder wears the white coat of a pharmacy professional and professor of medicinal chemistry in ONU’s Raabe College of Pharmacy. But a few times a year, he trades his white coat for the blue jacket of a Civil War Union Army soldier and participates in historical re-enactments of famous battles with his son Brendan, BA ’12. Earlier this month, the pair joined 11,000 fellow enthusiasts in Gettysburg, Pa., to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the famous Battle of Gettysburg.

Photo courtesy of Ricky Hussey (Scroll for more)

4th Ohio Volunteer Federal Infantry Regiment Company B Flag commemorating battles fought during Civil War in Gettysburg on July 3, 2013.

2nd Battalion lined up at Gettysburg.

Brendan Kinder as Sargent Major at attention during parade.

Dr. David Kinder on the march.

Living History actor encouraging the troops into action to free slaves.

Sgt Major Brendan Kinder leads the Second Battalion into battle.

The battle lines at Gettysburg.

Muzzle flash in the midst of battle.

The view of the battle from afar.

The fortunate survivors resting after the hard fought Union victory at Gettysburg.

For a professor of history, this kind of thing might even be considered research, but one might wonder how spending four days on a battlefield recreating the events of 1863 might relate to a field like pharmacy, the modern form of which was in its absolute infancy at the time.

Therein lies the connection.

In addition to teaching modern medicinal chemistry, Kinder also is an expert on historical methods of healing, including herbal remedies and early pharmaceutical compounds. He teaches courses on these areas to pharmacy students at ONU and sees his involvement in Civil War re-enactments as a way to relate his knowledge of the era’s science to its application in the society of the time.

“I use the Civil War as a tipping point for medicine that I teach today,” says Kinder. “There are several pivotal points in medicine that coincide with a war. In many ways, the two go hand-in-hand. In World War II, penicillin allowed more soldiers to survive otherwise non-fatal wounds by eliminating infection. Today, new medications and medical techniques allow modern soldiers to survive wounds that would have proved fatal in the past. The Civil War was another of these pivotal points.”

At the time of the Civil War, there were only four pharmacy schools in the United States. The pharmacists that did exist mainly supplied medicines to physicians who dispensed medication to patients. Physicians at that time were not required to graduate or even attend a medical college — only apprentice with a physician —in order to practice medicine, so there was great variation between the skill levels of physicians and an increasing dependence on medicines, both manufactured and natural.

Few medicines were manufactured at the time. Mercury salts and quinine were two of the most common, the former being used as a laxative and the latter for everything from fever to pain, although it is most associated with treating malaria today. Most herbal preparations of the time treated symptoms of a disease, such as fever, but weren’t actual cures.

“Heart failure was a common problem of the day, so foxglove was a commonly used plant for treating the dropsy, or edema, that resulted. Pain management from battle wounds was usually with laudanum or tincture of opium. Other medications were typically plant-based, such as senna, which was used as a laxative,” says Kinder. “I find that teaching how little was available is probably as instructive as what was.”

Many of the medicines and treatments used during the Civil War were precursors to more effective drugs discovered around the turn of the 20th century. For instance, aspirin was introduced in 1898 to treat pain, while willow bark was used for that purpose during the Civil War era.

“Willow has several analgesic compounds present, including salicin, which is converted to salicylic acid by your body. Aspirin, which is not present in willow, is also converted to salicylic acid, which gives it its analgesic activity,” says Kinder.

Not surprisingly, many of the treatments administered to soldiers dealt with pain management. The battlefield was a painful place, to say the least, but a soldier’s life was generally miserable even when they weren’t fighting.

“Marching for miles, then fighting for your life — I have not done that yet, and don’t want to. But even what we do, albeit for fun, is strenuous. The experiences of those young men in the Civil War must have been terrible,” says Kinder.

For re-enactors, it’s only marginally better.

“Who in their right mind would put on wool trousers, wool socks, Brogans (shoes) that are uncomfortable, a long sleeve shirt (typically wool or cotton) and a wool jacket, then strap on leather belts holding cartridges, a bayonet, canteen, haversack and rucksack, then march out into a field to fire off rounds at an ‘enemy’ in temperatures approaching 90 degrees?” asks Kinder.

It’s a fair question, especially when there are so many books and films devoted to the subject. Re-enacting is not a casual hobby. It’s not easy to do, nor inexpensive to participate in, but for Kinder, the experience itself and the insight it provides makes it all worthwhile.

“I get a feeling of satisfaction at learning, then sharing what I have learned with others,” he says. “I would not have learned about the Civil War in the way I have learned it now had I not gotten involved with re-enacting. There are details that one can learn intellectually, but experiencing it even as an approximation of what happened to these young men 150 years ago makes it far more relevant.

And besides, reenacting with my son is fun, and it allows us to spend time together and share a very unique hobby.”