Delving into the history of medicine has Devon Stillwell working alongside some of the “academic rock stars” of our times. Devon’s zest for research has brought her to New York, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Michigan, and Philadelphia – places far from her family home in southern Ontario.
“I get to present at conferences with academics whose books I’ve read a thousand times and whose work is just amazing,” she says.
Devon’s fascination with history didn’t begin with medicine. It was sparked by her father’s interest in military narratives. This isn’t to say that her childhood was filled with visits to war museums or that family time meant watching movies about storming the beaches of Normandy.
Devon grew up in a musical household. Her mother was a singer and her father was a musician who, before retiring, taught at Humber College. For Devon, her three sisters, and brother, music was an integral part of family life in Scarborough, Ontario.
“A lot of my time as a kid was spent taking piano lessons,” she says.
At twelve years old, Devon gravitated towards World War II stories. When she went on to attend Malvern Collegiate Institute, a public secondary school in the east end of Toronto, her history teacher, Richard Beaudry, fostered her interest in the discipline.
“He made history really fun,” she says. “I became interested in pursuing the subject at university.” In 2003, Devon enrolled in Lakehead’s Concurrent Education program. She majored in English, and, quite naturally, History.
When she graduated in 2007 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts, she deferred her Bachelor of Education. It was time to shift her focus entirely to history, and this meant staying at Lakehead to complete a master’s degree.
“I came to Lakehead thinking I’d leave in five years as a high school teacher, and then I ended up pursuing my interest in history instead,” she says. “I’ve been very lucky so far to continue my work as a historian. I hope to get an academic job, but I’m also open to other opportunities that may arise.”
From Lakehead, Devon went to McMaster University where she received a PhD in the History of Medicine and a diploma in Gender Studies and Feminist Research. She’s currently living in Baltimore, Maryland, working as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of the History of Medicine. For Devon, Lakehead is filled with many special memories. She reflects on hikes to the Sleeping Giant, the “cold, cold winters,” cycling around Thunder Bay, and her time in residence. Lakehead is also the place where she was introduced to her husband – Luke Bowley.
“We met playing soccer and through my residence assistant, who is his best friend,” she says. “We’ve been together for eight and a half years, so meeting him was definitely a Lakehead highlight.”
Devon is now working on a book manuscript based on her dissertation about the history of genetic counseling, risk, and 20th-century American biopolitics.
“I never thought I’d write a book,” she says, “so this is pretty awesome.”