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Mount Made: Years of Research Not in Vein

8/5/2022

Alumna, CMSV Adjunct Professor Co-Curates Overseas Pathology Exhibit

Maire Fox ’12 is very meticulous about her work. Between writing her doctoral dissertation, preparing coursework for the college classes she teaches, and coordinating museum exhibits across the pond in Ireland—she’s got her hands full with plenty of projects to keep her busy. Yet, she knows that there’s a place for everything, and everything has its place.

We’d even go so far as to say she’s organ-ized, if you will…

And that’s because Maire’s spent the past ten years or so deep-diving into the history of 19th century Irish pathoanatomy, autopsy, and dissection.

Maire Fox '12 smiles in a flower print shirt against green leaves

Just this past June, to mark the culmination of years of work in such a focused field, an exhibit titled “The Truths of Pathology” Morbid Anatomy, Microscopes, and the Pathological Society of Dublin—of which Maire is credited as one of the main curators—opened at the Heritage Center of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).

But before we dive into the exhibit, we asked Maire to tell us a little bit about how she got involved with such an undertaking.

Maire began her journey at the Mount intending to become an elementary school teacher. She declared a major in psychology and began her studies in both general and special education. But, at the very end of her junior year at the College—right as she was set to begin her last year of undergraduate coursework—she had a change of heart. Okay, maybe not literally, but figurately.

After a long discussion with one of her mentors, Professor of History Joseph Skelly, Maire realized that she wasn’t as passionate about psychology or elementary education as she once thought. In the back of her mind always loomed this interest in medicine and the history surrounding it. After all, her family—which is quite big, might we add—has many members involved in the medical field. Her grandparents were both physicians and, of her seven aunts and uncles on her dad’s side, five are in medicine. Maire had no interest in becoming a doctor (well, a medical doctor), but knew she could still find her niche in the anatomy world.

She convinced Dr. Skelly to sign off on a paper switching her major to history and she completed the entire major program in her senior year at the Mount—taking upwards of 20 credits each semester and even flying across the globe on a study abroad trip to Italy.

Maire Fox '12 and her classmates pose on a curb in Rome

Maire was ambitious to change her major with only two semesters left of undergraduate studies, but it was the best academic decision she ever made! She’s pictured here with classmates during a study abroad trip to Italy during her senior year winter break.

“I won the history department medal at commencement that year—which I think only goes to prove my dedication to the history field and my passion for the research I performed.”

She recalled the countless trips to her local library she would take with her father growing up—perusing the pages of books new and old and getting lost in the stacks. That craving for information followed her as she navigated her college experience, and Maire was able to finally turn her hobby for history into a career.

Maire remained at the Mount during the year following her graduation to finish off her studies in what was then the College’s 5-year dual B.A./M.S. program in education. She earned her degrees and knew she wanted to further broaden her studies in history. So, she began studying at the CUNY Graduate Center at the City University of New York and pursued a second master’s degree.

Following her studies at CUNY, Maire went on to spend a few years teaching high school history in both New York and New Jersey.

Maire Fox '12 and her classmates pose at their master's graduation from the Mount

Maire poses with some of her fellow graduates at the Mount’s 2013 commencement exercises—where she earned her M.S. in urban and multicultural education.

Always thirsting for more knowledge, Maire’s current studies brought her to St. John’s University in 2017, where she’s now pursuing a Ph.D. in history—focusing on the history of medicine with a concentration in 19th century Irish pathoanatomy.

“It was the golden age of Irish medicine, after all. There’s still so much to learn, but I enjoy every minute of the research I do.”

She’s finished coursework all the way up to earning her A.B.D.—and plans to finish her dissertation over the next year.

With most of her Ph.D. under her belt, a typical day for Maire begins with waking up early—usually with the nose of a hungry dog or cat nestled in her face—and getting her brain ready for a day of research, writing, and teaching. She might greet the day by spending some time outside, jump in for a quick swim in the lake in her backyard, or sit back with a cup of coffee. Then she gets to work.

It’s all about finding a balance among several tasks—depending on what’s most pressing. She’ll research, write, prepare course materials, draft talks or presentations, and attend meetings.

“I spend a lot of my time sitting in front of the computer—except for the occasional in-person meeting or trip to an archive,” said Maire. “To most other people, my day-to-day probably sounds rather monotonous. But, for me, it’s not work—it’s fueling my passion.”

Maire Fox '12 reaches up to feed a hungry giraffe Maire Fox '12 pets two sheep from behind a fence

An animal lover, Maire recently checked “feeding giraffes” off her bucket list at a zoo in Pennsylvania. While in Ireland, she loves interacting with local creatures—especially at her family’s farm in County Leitrim (of which there is no shortage of sheep!).

When she’s not pages-deep into her next article or project, Maire is sure to find time to relax and unwind. She loves music and can often be found attending concerts or at venues with live performances. She’s an avid reader—a “book hoarder” (her words, not ours!). And to stay active, she plays racquetball.

Oh, and she loves to travel, of course.

“I also am sure to spend as much time with my family as possible. They’re my biggest supporters. I never take for granted any moment I get to spend with them.”

And not only is this a #MountMade alumnae/i feature on Maire and her accomplishments after walking across the commencement stage, it’s also a faculty feature!

Since 2017, Maire has taught a section of the course “Disease, Doctors, and Healthcare: The Evolution of Modern Healthcare” right here at her alma mater. Maire also serves as an adjunct professor at several other local colleges—but even she admits coming back to teach at the Mount’s Riverdale campus is one of the favorite parts of her job.

The class, for which Maire developed the syllabus, examines the historical evolution of medical practice and society’s responses to disease and death.

“Throughout the course, students examine how medical practice was directly related to historical events and, conversely, how historical events impacted the expansion of medical and scientific knowledge.”

Maire Fox '12 reads a book while wearing red glasses

The class counts toward students’ completion of the College’s Core Curriculum—which forms the basis of the liberal arts education for each student pursing a degree at the Mount. Maire teaches students from all fields of study—from nursing to sociology—and offers them insight into a humanities perspective of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field. Students are also encouraged to exercise their creative interests while engaging in the course.

“While, yes, students write several smaller papers throughout the semester, their final assignment offers them the creative liberty to explore their passions,” said Maire. “Students can create art pieces or models or film videos or podcasts—really anything they want—demonstrating the knowledge they collected throughout the semester. It’s incredible to see visions come alive.”

Speaking about visions coming to life, remember that exhibit we mentioned earlier? Maire spent the last two years spearheading research and curation of the exhibit—combining her love of history and science—and finally got to see her hard work unfold this past June.

But before we explain more about “The Truths of Pathology,” let’s journey back in time to 2018.

Maire Fox '12 poses among seats in a lecture hall

Maire’s travels and research in Ireland brought her to Trinity College in Dublin, where she posed here in one of the anatomy lecture theatres.

Maire, who holds dual citizenship here in the States and in Ireland, flew over the Atlantic for a research trip after she began her Ph.D. studies at St. John’s. She spent time digging through archives and collections at RCPI, and also at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

One image stood out.

It was a detailed illustration of a brain, done by artist and researcher William Kirwan.

“It was a visceral experience. Truthfully, the image haunted me—the visible trauma, the untold story behind it. I knew at that moment that I needed to learn more.”

And that’s when Maire befriended Harriet Wheelock, the Keeper of Collections at the RCPI Heritage Center. Harriet has a background in museum curation and preservation—and Maire, as we know, has a passion for history and science. Together, the two make quite the team.

Maire Fox '12 studies an image of a brain An image of a brain

Maire studies Kirwan’s brain at the RCPI archives—the image that sparked the creation of “The Truths of Pathology” exhibit. We included a closer image of Kirwan’s brain, which is courtesy of RCPI.

Maire returned to Ireland for two months in 2019 on a grant from the Davatzes Family Foundation to complete research for her dissertation. While she was there, Maire and Harriet worked closely together digging through material, visiting other collections, and researching. They knew they were working on something big—but exactly what that would be was still to question.

2020 came and brought COVID-19 along with it. Travel and safety restrictions would prevent Maire from traveling to Ireland. However, Maire and Harriet continued their conversations virtually—sometimes Zooming into the early hours of the morning with the time difference. That’s when the seeds of the exhibit were planted.

Maire Fox '12 poses next to a poster for the exhibit

In 2021, RCPI would mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Faculty of Pathology. That called for a big celebration, of course. And what better way to honor such esteemed doctors and academics than with a symposium?!

It would be the perfect time for Maire and Harriet to finalize their research and present RCPI with an exhibit of the highest caliber. The rest of 2021 and the early months of 2022 were spent finalizing details, collecting the final pieces for display, and plenty of international meetings.

And so, Maire’s work was not in vein and “The Truths of Pathology” came to life.

But, yet again, COVID-19 would continue to push back the timeline. Originally slated to open in July 2021 (and then January 2022), the exhibit was finally launched this past June—and Maire was able to attend the 40th anniversary celebration in Ireland and present the exhibit for the program attendees.

“While there were many people who worked on the project, I’d like to add that the exhibit was entirely female curated, which is a big step toward equality in a male-dominated field.”

Maire Fox '12 (middle) poses with the other curators of the exhibit

Maire poses for a photo with the curators of “The Truths of Pathology” at the exhibit launch: Harriet Wheelock, RCPI; Maire; and Evi Numen, Trinity College.

The exhibit, in addition to being housed at the RCPI Heritage Center, is live online* in its entirety. It gives those without the opportunity to travel to Ireland the ability to experience the collection from the comfort of their own homes.

*Just a heads-up before you click on the exhibit link, it contains images of preserved human tissue and accurate artistic representations of dissected body parts. If you do not wish to view this content, please do not view the exhibit.

We’d also like to add that the exhibit is the first in Ireland and one of the first global contemporary exhibits to highlight 19th century Irish pathology and the Dublin Pathological Society.

Maire herself admits that none of her success would have been possible without the support she received from the Mount community—both a decade ago and today.

“The environment of the Mount is truly unique,” reflected Maire. “I know that I learn (and teach!) better in a more intimate setting with smaller class sizes. Nobody ever gave up on me—even after I decided to change my major during my senior year!”

Maire Fox '12 poses outside a passage tomb in Ireland Maire Fox '12 and her cousin, Katharine, pose on top of a mountain in Ireland

Maire’s travels around Ireland have brought her across the country—from exploring the passage tombs in County Meath to climbing to the highest point in Ireland, Cuilcagh Mountain, with her cousin Katharine.

Ironically, Maire stumbled upon the Mount’s campus on accident while driving lost through the Bronx with her mother. But, fate brought her on campus and she immediately fell in love with it—and who could blame her?!

To this day, Maire considers the teachers in the Mount’s history department her biggest mentors. Dr. Skelly trained her to be the historian she is today—and put his faith in her to come back and develop a course of her own. Associate Professor of History David Gallo taught her how to have fun in the classroom and make learning history inviting. Associate Professor of History Daniel Opler instilled in her not only knowledge, but also goodness and discipline. And Associate Professor of Italian and History David Aliano showed Maire how history can come alive both on-location and in a classroom—especially during that study abroad trip to Italy.

“I’m passionate, but I’m the first to admit that I procrastinate,” Maire chuckled. “Professors like Dr. Skelly, Dr. Opler, Dr. Gallo, and Dr. Aliano helped (and continue to help!) keep me on track. I’m a firm believer that knowledge does no good bottled up in someone’s head. Knowledge is best when it’s spread to others. I’m lucky to have had such wonderful teachers who fostered that belief within me—and now I get to call them my colleagues.”

Maire Fox '12 poses with members of the CMSV Science Club

Maire’s relationship with the Mount extends far beyond the History Department. Recently, members of the Science Club invited her to give a lecture on forensic autopsy.

Where does Maire see herself over the next five years? Ten?

“Well, it’s kind of amorphous,” she said.

Long story short, she knows she’ll still be teaching once she finishes her Ph.D. Teaching is her passion—what brings her pure joy. And not just in the traditional setting, but also giving lectures and presentations at museums and conferences, combining her interests. But where exactly she’ll be standing at the head of the classroom? That’s still to be determined.

“I’d love to teach at a small, liberal arts college like the Mount. It’s where I feel most comfortable. But I could also see myself moving across the ocean to live and work in Ireland.”

If we learned anything while talking to Maire, one thing’s for sure: the Mount will always be her home away from home. And who knows—perhaps she’ll have her very own office in Humanities Hall one day soon.

Are you Mount Made? Do you know other alums carrying out the mission of the College? Let us know—we’d love to share how the College helped launch your career. Contact us to be featured!


About the University of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the University of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of professional accomplishment, service, and leadership in the 21st century.