Social history of medicine — August 2014

history-of veterinary-medicine

The August issue of Social History of Medicine contains eight original articles:

  • Late 19th/early 20th century food adulteration in an increasingly industrialized and globalized world and the search for safety standards
  • The shift in cancer education in the 1950s, no longer downplaying post-operative recovery
  • The 20th century shift in British veterinary medicine towards small animals (dogs, cats), as the need to attend to horses declined (open access)
  • How complaints about the quality of London drinking water in the 18th century reflected the new popularity of bathing for health and social attitudes towards bathers from the lower classes
  • A re-evaluation of the prevalence of venereal disease at the time of the World War I (open access)
  • How quacks preyed on people with hearing loss in mid-19th century Britain
  • How the 1975 TV play, ‘Through the Night,’ portraying what it was like to experience breast cancer treatment, registered with medical professionals and activists who complained of ‘the machinery of authoritarian care’ (open access)
  • Did Axel Holst and Theodor Frølich actually develop an animal model of experimental research?

There are also a large number of book reviews, including:

  • Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine by Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein
  • Emotions and Health, 1200–1700 by Elena Carrera (ed.)
  • The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability by Mark Jackson
  • Before Bioethics: A History of American Medical Ethics from the Colonial Period to the Bioethics Revolution by Robert Baker

Note: Links are to article abstracts and book review excerpts. I have added the emphasis in what follows.


The Search for International Food Safety Regulation. From the Commission Internationale pour la répression des falsifications to the Société universelle de la Croix Blanche (1879–1909)

By Ximo Guillem-Llobat

In the late-nineteenth and the early-twentieth centuries, food safety regulation experienced important changes throughout Europe and North America with the passing of several national food laws. Rising food adulteration and constant denunciation by scientists, writers, politicians or consumers, prompted the passing of these new laws at a local level. However, the laws proved limited and unsatisfactory in the context of the increasingly industrialised and globalised food chain. The growing international dimension of the food market demanded international agreements in food quality and safety regulation, and the shift towards control mainly based on chemical analysis led to a new regulation strategy: the search for standards. This paper analyses these turning points in regulation by considering the major international initiatives around the turn of the century.

Before Survivorship: The Moment of Recovery in Twentieth-century American Cancer Campaigns

By David Cantor

This paper concerns what I call “the moment of recovery,” the time when, in the 1950s, American cancer campaigns abandoned an earlier tendency to downplay post-operative recovery in their public education programs. This change was signalled by the emergence of new patients groups such as Reach to Recovery (founded 1953), and by a new interest in cancer rehabilitation among physicians, nurses, and manufacturers and sellers of equipment and clothing for patients. My focus is on breast cancer and the nurse-patient-industrial complex that drove the new interest in rehabilitation and recovery, but I also argue that the “moment of recovery” in breast cancer was part of a larger “moment” in cancer more generally. Finally, I seek to distinguish the “moment of recovery” of the 1950s from the discourses around the survivor that have emerged since the 1970s and 1980s, what might be called the “moment of survivorship.”

The ‘Dangerous’ Women of Animal Welfare: How British Veterinary Medicine Went to the Dogs

By Andrew Gardiner

This paper examines the turn toward the small companion animal that occurred in British veterinary medicine in the twentieth century. The change in species emphasis is usually attributed to post-war socioeconomic factors, however this explanation ignores the extensive small animal treatment that was occurring outwith the veterinary profession in the interwar period. The success of this unqualified practice caused the veterinary profession to rethink attitudes to small animals (dogs initially, later cats) upon the decline of horse practice. This paper argues that a shift toward seeing the small animal as a legitimate veterinary patient was necessary before the specialty could become mainstream in the post-war years, and that this occurred between the wars as a result of the activities of British animal welfare charities, especially the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals of the Poor.

Full text available as HTML and PDF.

The Question of Water Quality and London’s New River in the Eighteenth Century

By Leslie Tomory

Although most historiographic attention about the quality of London’s drinking water has been directed towards the nineteenth century, it was an important subject in the eighteenth century as well. This paper focuses particularly on the New River supply to the city and shows that different groups approached the subject in various ways. The New River Company was constantly concerned about quality in regard to matter that affected the water’s taste, appearance and smell, meaning mostly weeds, leaves and mud. Popular opinion, however, fixated on one subject above all others: that of people bathing in the New River. This source of contamination created such ire because the practice of bathing was becoming increasingly popular for its health effects; those objecting mingled moral and spiritual impurity with the contamination of the water; and finally, there was a strong class element to the dispute, with the bathers being from the lower classes.

The Prevalence of Syphilis in England and Wales on the Eve of the Great War: Re-visiting the Estimates of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases 1913–1916

By Simon Szreter

Public fears of widespread venereal disease led in 1913 to the appointment of The Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases (RCVD). In 1916 its Final Report offered only a single cautious and somewhat imprecise summary statement about the likely prevalence of venereal diseases in England and Wales. Although the significance of contemporary attitudes to venereal disease has attracted a good deal of historiographic attention, no historian or demographer has since investigated this aspect of the Royal Commission’s work. This article critically re-examines the most important quantitative evidence presented to the Royal Commission relating to the years immediately prior to the First World War. It utilises this evidence to produce new estimates of the probable prevalence of syphilis among adult males, both nationally and among certain geographical divisions and social groups in the national population; and also to offer a comment on the likely prevalence of gonorrhoea.

Full text available as HTML and PDF.

Pills, Potions and Devices: Treatments for Hearing Loss Advertised in Mid-nineteenth Century British Newspapers

By Liz Ross, Phil Lyon and Craig Cathcart

This article examines the ameliorative options facing people with hearing loss in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. As reflected in professional journals of the day, medical understanding of diseases and dysfunctions of the ear was limited, yet there was vigorous assertion and counter-claim as to the cause and treatment of problems. At the time, medicine was largely unregulated and quack practitioners were also able to promote their nostrums and services to a credulous the general public with little chance of a genuine cure for their hearing loss. Using the nineteenth-century British Library Newspapers Archive for 1850, 379 advertisements offering cures for deafness were identified and examined to illustrate the variety of nostrums and devices offered to the public. Individuals with hearing loss were easy prey when even qualified medical practitioners had little understanding of cause or treatment, and when scant legal protection protected them from fraudulent treatment claims or offered redress for their failure.

The Machinery of Authoritarian Care: Dramatising Breast Cancer Treatment in 1970s Britain

By Elizabeth Toon

This article examines the professional and public response to the television play Through the Night, which aired on BBC1 in December 1975. One of the first British mass media portrayals of a woman’s experience being treated for breast cancer, this play attracted a large audience and considerable attention from both critics and everyday viewers. My analysis of the play draws on sources documenting expert responses to the play in its production stages, as well as critics’ and viewers’ responses to what the play said about breast cancer treatment in particular, and about Britons’ experiences of medical institutions more broadly. Together, I argue, these sources help us see how Through the Night’s critique of what one expert called ‘the machinery of authoritarian care’ reverberated with and supported the efforts of professionals anxious to improve patient experience, and how it crystallised the concerns of activists and everyday viewers.

Full text available as HTML and PDF.

Contesting the Animal Model: Axel Holst and the Controversy over Scurvy and Beriberi

By Kristin Asdal

In contemporary writing Axel Holst and Theodor Frølich are being celebrated as the first to produce an animal model for the experimental production of scurvy. But in their time their research was contested by their peers, most vocally by the polar hero and zoologist Fridtjof Nansen. This paper explores how Axel Holst initially started out as a microbe hunter and worked within a bacteriological framework, before he shifted to performing feeding experiments and came to understand scurvy as a deficiency disease. This radical shift in framework may take part in explaining the controversy around their research. But most importantly, this paper argues, we must understand this in light of the contested status of animal models and modelling work in medical science. In order to analyse this, the paper suggests that we attend to a broad set of approaching and defining ‘models’. Moreover, the paper suggests that we extend our discussion from ‘the animal model’ and what an animal model is, to modelling practices and what models can do, and sometimes fail to do. The paper concludes with arguing that Holst and Frølich in fact did not develop an animal model, i.e. a shared example upon which scientists base their work.

Book Reviews

Manon Parry, Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning

Reviewed by Rose Holz

As Manon Parry explains in her interesting new book, ‘Many of the women who wrote [to the Birth Control Review] noted that they had read about [Margaret] Sanger’s work in the press, confirming the important role of the mass media in publicizing and building support for the movement’ (p. 13). Therein lies the crux of Parry’s project: the use of publicity was central to the family planning movement and a sustained analysis of its use over time is long overdue. To that end, she challenges several long-standing historiographic assumptions and unearths more than a few fascinating stories. For example, she refutes the long held view that in its early days the ‘birth control movement traded controversy for propriety in their efforts to win mainstream approval.’ Parry persuasively argues instead that each new publicity effort brought a new round of ‘outrage and censorship’ (p. 3). Additionally, in charting the shifting publicity mediums—from film, to radio, and finally to television—she illustrates how the particularities of each shaped the messages the family planning movement delivered.

Parry begins …

Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein, Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine

Reviewed by Laura R Neff

Roger Cooter’s careful and provocative analysis of epistemological trends and frameworks in Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine illuminates the challenges faced by changing methodologies and shifting philosophies in academic history-writing. His sharp and critical gaze is applied to his own academic-writing and examines his own perceptions of history and history-writing. The purpose of these essays is to act as ‘commentaries on postmodern and post-postmodern tropes in academic history-writing’ (p. x). Far beyond navel gazing, Cooter’s essays (four co-authored with Claudia Stein) pose provocative questions about the value of history-writing as an academic commodity. For Cooter, how historians construct history is important if the field is to maintain agency in the humanities. Within the wider framework of these essays, Cooter examines how the present influences the interpretation of all historical discourse. He explains that, ‘It does mean, though, the abandonment of the idea that the historian stands as if on Mars. And it involves understanding the need for this abandonment on grounds beyond those merely acknowledging that history-writing is always conducted in the present’ (p. 3). How historians, in any period, are influenced …

Elena Carrera (ed.), Emotions and Health, 1200–1700

Reviewed by Sarah Ann Robin

Emotions and Health presents current work from Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions, and is one in a long line of publications which have proved highly influential and stimulating within the field. The editor, Elena Carrera, has published on emotions, madness and mysticism, largely within the context of early-modern Spain. The book contains chapters by seven other contributors, with a clear focus on the more negative dimensions of human feeling: melancholy, fear, anger, revenge, exorbitance (in the medieval context) and sadness.

The audience of the book is the growing number of scholars who are working within the field of the history of emotions, as well as those exploring the history of medicine, science and mysticism. Each new study from the Queen Mary Centre seems to advance the clarity and precision of the necessary academic language of the history of emotion, and Emotions and Health is no different in this respect.

Elena Carrera explains that the aims of the book are two-fold. First, the book is intended to shed light upon topics and a timeframe (1200–1700) which have been understudied. Second, the eight essays offer clarity on already contested ideas, including the terminology of emotions; the influence of culture; emotional communities and their grounding within particular historical contexts; the impact of language; and finally, understanding

Mark Jackson, The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability

Reviewed by Mathew Thomson

Another England cricket player withdraws from the fray on account of ‘stress’. What does this mean? I ask my kids to do something they don’t fancy, and their knee-jerk reaction is to accuse me of being ‘stressy’. Perhaps I am feeling stressed? Are you feeling stressed too? In stress, we seem to have found a condition and a language that we feel comfortable with, or perhaps can’t escape even if we don’t, and which occupies the broadsheets, the home, and the workplace; yet at the same time, I’m not sure whether we all really understand what this term means. The recent phenomenon is an issue that has already attracted the attention of journalists. There is also some preliminary work by historians who have homed in on the founding father of stress, Hans Selye, but we haven’t had the major historical study that offers us the big picture that the subject deserves. Mark Jackson’s The Age of Stress, as the bold title suggests, is that study. Covering the period from the late nineteenth century to the present, and international in its scope, it is a substantial, ambitious, and impressive piece of work. Jackson argues that stress is the emblematic medical but also cultural condition, not just of our own age, but …

Michelle Murphy, Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience

Reviewed by Christabelle Sethna

Sex changed in the second half of the twentieth century’ (p. 1). With this arresting first sentence, Michelle Murphy launches into her assessment of reproduction after 1945. Thanks to funding from aid agencies, the intervention of supranational organisations, and the development of new contraceptive and reproductive technologies, reproduction came to be viewed as something that could be managed at the micro level of individuals and at the macro level of populations. Playing upon the familiar Marxist insistence on the proletariat seizing the means of production, she contends that in the 1970s and the 1980s the second wave feminist self-help movement in the United States ‘declared the imperative to seize the means of reproduction’ [emphasis in original] (p. 2). Murphy labels these means ‘technoscience’, which ranges from high-tech methods such as cloning, to low-tech birth control manuals, turkey basters for artificial insemination, and canning jars and aquarium tubing for procuring an abortion. Murphy is far …

Robert Baker, Before Bioethics: A History of American Medical Ethics from the Colonial Period to the Bioethics Revolution

Reviewed by Nathan Emmerich

Robert Baker began his academic training as a philosopher; however, since becoming a bioethicist, he has fulfilled the promise of this interdisciplinary field. Both here and elsewhere he has made a significant contribution to the history of medical ethics. Whilst we could rightly address such research as a subset of the history of medicine it is, perhaps, better to think of this text as a work of bioethics. Doing so pushes a number of perspectives and concerns to the fore. Most relevant is the fact that in writing the history of American medical ethics prior to the advent of ‘bioethics’ his work has nevertheless been produced subsequent to the advent of bioethics. Thus, whilst we might reflect on the lessons that any piece of historical scholarship has to offer there is, I think, a particular motivation for doing so when that work is not simply historical but also bioethical.

Following the usual introductory chapter, Baker first examines the …

Mical Raz, What’s Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty

Reviewed by Michael E. Staub

The story Mical Raz tells in this thoughtful book will likely be both familiar and fascinating to scholars of post-war American social and intellectual history. On the one hand, it will come as no surprise that unreflected assumptions about black culture and black family life as pathological permeated the Cold War policies and programmes that sought to provide assistance to poor African Americans. Readers acquainted with Daryl Michael Scott’s devastating account in Contempt and Pity (1997) will instantly recognise the outlines of Raz’s own story about how the good liberal intentions of medical professionals and mental health experts in the 1960s came so often to rely on problematic racial concepts. On the other hand, Raz’s book succeeds largely due to its novel focus on a previously unacknowledged though key aspect of 1960s medical and public health discourse about race and poverty. What Raz’s research clearly illuminates are the many overlapping ways in which unsubstantiated and incoherent theories about the ‘deprivations’—whether cultural, maternal, …

Hilary Marland, Health and Girlhood in Britain, 1874–1920

Reviewed by Vanessa Heggie

Hilary Marland’s latest book provides excellent evidence that it is time to return to the turn of the twentieth century with a fresh eye, particularly when it comes to the history of bodies, and especially women’s and exercising bodies. Marland makes a convincing case that the decades around 1900 saw the creation of a new cultural category of girlhood, which was in large part defined by notions of health and vigour, of mind as well as body. While these four decades saw a significant change in the definition and understanding of girlhood, Health and Girlhood also acts as a useful corrective to our canonical texts about this period, particularly Vertinsky’s Eternally Wounded Woman and Rabinbach’s The Human Motor, both of which have been classic reference works for over 20 years.

Marland’s sources are wide-ranging, but of particular interest are the contributions of advice and self-help literature, and other publications aimed specifically at girls such as the Girls Own Paper. The very existence of such publications indicates the …

Kirsten Ostherr, Medical Visions: Producing the Patient Through Film, Television, and Imaging Technologies

Reviewed by David A. Kirby

In the relatively new area of inquiry and pedagogy known as the ‘medical humanities’ humanistic modes of inquiry are brought to bear upon medical practice and the biomedical sciences as a way to explore medicine’s relationship to culture more generally. One common application of medical humanities is the practice of ‘narrative medicine’ in which medical students both critically analyse medically themed cultural texts and produce their own narratives as a means by which to teach ethics and communication skills. However, the texts studied and produced in narrative medicine have tended to be almost exclusively text-based; so much so that these university courses are often nicknamed ‘poetry for doctors’. In Medical Visions Kirsten Ostherr attempts to broaden the focus of narrative medicine by highlighting the crucial role that visual mass media have played in the development of contemporary medical practice and in shaping patient experiences.

What Ostherr demonstrates is that the visual technologies of cinema and television not only transformed the …

Also reviewed:

Fiona Hutton, The Study of Anatomy in Britain, 1700–1900 reviewed by Helen MacDonald

Marjo Kaartinen, Breast Cancer in the Eighteenth Century reviewed by Sara Read

Mayumi Hayashi, The Care of Older People: England and Japan, a Comparative Study reviewed by Martin Gorsky

Linda Kalof (ed.), A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Medieval Age reviewed by Irina Metzler

Rosemary Wall, Bacteria in Britain, 1880–1939 reviewed by Anne Hardy

James F. Stark, The Making of Modern Anthrax, 1875–1920: Uniting Local, National and Global Histories of Disease reviewed by Tim Carter

Ellen Amster, Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877–1956 reviewed by Adam Guerin

Efram Sera-Shriar, The Making of British Anthropology, 1813–1871 reviewed by Chris Manias

Ryan A. Davis, The Spanish Flu: Narrative and Cultural Identity in Spain, 1918 reviewed by Mark Honigsbaum

Alex Mold and David Reubi (eds), Assembling Health Rights in Global Context: Genealogies and Anthropologies reviewed by Harry Oosterhuis

Yücel Yanıkdaǧ, Healing the Nation: Prisoners of War, Medicine and Nationalism in Turkey, 1914–1939 reviewed by Jeremy Salt

Victoria A. Harden, AIDS at 30: A History reviewed by Virginia Berridge

Bernd Gausemeier, Staffan Müller-Wille and Edmund Ramsden (eds), Human Heredity in the Twentieth Century reviewed by Marius Turda

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Is it safe to eat yet?
The persistence of melamine

Image source: USDA


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