Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 Time: 4:00 p.m. Location: Rubenstein Library Room 153 (Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room)
Join the Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series for our next lecture by Cali Buckley on “The History and Legacy of Ivory Anatomical Manikins.” Ivory anatomical models comprise a little-known set of objects that were popular with male doctors of the late 17th- and 18th-centuries. Their narrative is currently being revised in light of a history of questionable assumptions. Though small and largely inaccurate, the story of anatomical manikins reveals how the politics of medicine impresses meaning on medical objects – often transcending the needs of the scientific community. Ms. Buckley will present on her current hypotheses as well as the process by which medical objects can be examined according to social history, connoisseurship, and material culture.
Cali Buckley is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Penn State University. She received a Fulbright U.S. Student Award that allowed her to spend the 2015–16 academic year in Germany working on her dissertation, “Early Modern Anatomical Models and the Control of Women’s Medicine.”
The talk will be held in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. All are welcome to attend. Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.
It was Radio Haiti’s eighty-first birthday a few days ago. The station was founded on 17 September 1935 by Ricardo Widmaïer, and later, under Jean Dominique’s leadership, Radio Haïti-Inter continued to commemorate that anniversary. On 17 September 1991, they did a special broadcast celebrating fifty-six years of Radio Haiti. It is a beautiful, moving, and enchanting program. They dove into their own archives, revisiting some of their most memorable broadcasts. And Jean Dominique, always the interviewer of others, at last became the interviewee. Michèle Montas asked him about Vodou, the Haitian Creole language, pale andaki (speaking in veiled or covert ways) the 1973 kidnapping of American ambassador Clinton Knox, and resistance to Duvalierism and dictatorship. At the end of the program, Jean took back the microphone to pay surprise tribute to Michèle. He gave credit to the fanm vayan (courageous woman) who shared the struggle, knew how to fouye zo l nan kalalou (investigate, dig deep), ran the newsroom and trained Radio Haiti’s journalists. That less than two weeks after this broadcast, Haiti’s democratically-elected government was overthrown in a military coup makes the program all the more poignant: Radio Haiti was hurtling toward another long exile.
Today, we have translated a portion of the 17 September 1991 broadcast from Haitian Creole into English. In an earlier broadcast, he referred to the Italian adage “traduttore, traditore” – “translator, traitor” – to describe the perils and impossibility of translating Haitian Creole to French. Translating Haitian Creole to English, too, was an exciting challenge, made all the more exciting because the original words were spoken by an uncommonly gifted and playful wordsmith with an uncommonly expressive voice.
With that caveat, we present Jean Dominique:
Before I did radio – don’t forget, I’m an agronomist – I spent a lot of time in the field, since as an agronomist, as an agronomy student, I spent a lot of time in the Artibonite when I finished my studies I went to work as an agronomist in Quartier Morin, in the Plaine du Nord, in Plaine Bayeux, where I spent time face-to-face with Vodou, with peasants who served the lwa, with oungan [Vodou priests], with manbo [Vodou priestesses].
Since I also had books to read, I read them, I learned from them. And after I finished studying agronomy I spent two years in the School of Ethnology (which later became the Institute of Ethnology, but at the time it was the School of Ethnology), where I met a whole bunch of professors who showed me the way. I came to know the way, so I could find what I was searching for. And when I began to work in radio, radio could let people hear Vodou songs for the spirits, to hear rasin songs, to hear the beats of the drum. That too is an important thing. But this also presented a big problem because Duvalier used Vodou, too. The problem was that many people who were opposed to Duvalier thought that all of Vodou was tied to Duvalier. Likewise, anyone who spoke about Vodou was suspected of being pro-Duvalier. So I had to be very careful. Yet again l’oncle, Jean Price-Mars, helped me to be very careful. And the fellow we just heard there, Maître Pierre, and another of my spiritual fathers named Aristène. Aristène Jecrois. They both greatly helped me to understand. And another of my fathers, a father from the Northwest… Hmm! That’s another story. A patriarch, a patriarch from the Northwest. He came one day to the station, and I was testing the waters for my usual little afternoon program, and from time to time I’d put on a little music. And one day he showed up at the station to see me, and he told me, “I had a dream about you.”
And he described the dream to me, and then he said, “There are things you understand, and there are others you do not understand. I understand what you don’t understand. And I understand why you don’t understand it.” Hmm! And he told me. And it was he who put me on the path. It was he who told me, “Jean, under the American occupation, we spoke of everything in the peristil (Vodou temple).” They would speak those words, and the Americans were there, within the peristil, but they didn’t understand anything at all. And so the word spread. It was he who told me of Charlemagne Péralte [who led an armed resistance to the US occupation] . It was he who told me of Benoît Batraville. It was he who told me of the Cacos. It was he who told me of the role of Vodou in the resistance. It was he who explained that this tradition began waaaay back, long long ago, from the time of Boukman, from the time of Biassou. Those words, [historian Thomas] Madiou didn’t write them, [François] Dalencourt didn’t write them, but those words were passed along through song.
Likewise, I came to understand something important that dialectical philosophy could show me, but that the blan could never understand: what we call the Haitian people’s strategy of mawonaj. The dialectic of mawonaj. The dialectic of everything having two faces, two sides. Heads and tails. Everything on the blessed earth has two sides to it. There are two sides. Duvalier took one side, but there is another side he didn’t take. He couldn’t take it.
And so it was, when an oungan was taking me through his lakou, he was showing me his lakou. And when they saw that I wasn’t an enemy, when they saw that I all I wanted was to learn – I didn’t make any trouble – they taught me. And I learned that there were some altars that were sealed shut.
“Oh-oh!” I said, “Papa, why are these altars sealed?”
“Mm-mm. I’ll tell you another time.”
Another altar was sealed. I said again, “Oh, papa, why are these altars sealed?”
Now remember, this was in ‘73, ‘74, we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier. When I got home, I kept thinking about what he had said, I got in my car, I came back, and I asked again. “Why are these altars sealed off? I know there is a spirit, some meaning behind it.”
Eventually, one day, the patriarch told me, “I’ll tell you why those altars are sealed off. In 1957, when the devils took over the country, a great many of the Ginen spirits returned to Africa. They turned their back on the country. They left the country for the devils.”
I said, “Oh!” I said, “Papa, those are serious words you’re telling me!”
He said, “They are serious words, my child. That’s why the altars are shut.”
I said, “So, they’ve abandoned us! They’ve left us helpless!”
He said, “No, my child. The day the Ginen spirits return, that means the time has come. The time has come.”
So, since I’ve been traveling deep, deep into the countryside, I’ve come to realize that there is a force in the Haitian people. The word “no” cannot cross their lips — but that’s not what’s going on in their hearts. They bow their heads when someone says “Bow your head!” It looks like they’re bowing their heads, but in their hearts they’re not. And they’re waiting for the day to come. They’re waiting for the moment to come, when they can say, “No!” When they will raise their heads again. That is what I learned within the peristil. That is what I learned Vodou held.
And then came a day, then came a day (I don’t remember whether it was in ‘72 to ‘73), I said to someone who was close to me, “Oh, I’m going to take a little trip, I’m going to go up to Ville Bonheur, to the annual July pilgrimage, when they celebrate the festival of Saut d’Eau.” So I went, like any tourist, like any citizen, like anyone else from Port-au-Prince, who goes to watch and have fun! When I got there, that fateful July at Saut d’Eau, I started moving through the crowd: people, people, people, people, people everywhere! I got to the front of the church, cassette in hand, I started to record, and there I discovered a great truth. That truth…! I realized — and I said all of this on the radio in a report that caused an uproar at the time, because it was the first time that listeners had heard such things. And we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier, we were under [high-ranking Macoutes like] Luc Désir, Jean Valmé, Luckner Cambronne, and company! We were under the tigers! The people opened their arms in front of the pilgrimage site, they looked toward the church, and they described their misery. They described their oppression, how the life was squeezed out of them [peze-souse]. They described how everything was being destroyed [kraze-brize]. They spelled it all out. They described it in a litany, for hours. For days. And when I arrived under the palm tree — you know? You go past the church, go straight down, and there’s the palm tree where they say Emperor Faustin saw the apparition. When I arrived under the palm tree, I heard something else: “Those who do evil cannot set foot in Saut d’Eau.” Big words! When you got up to the water, they said the same thing. I said, “Hmm! Listen to what the people are saying. The people are using the spirits to reveal their enemies.” That is what I meant at that time [in that report].
I feel the same thing in the drumbeats that echo throughout the country. Sure, Macoutes could use the drum, too. To make a show, to intimidate people. But there is another kind of drumbeat: boom. And that beat, Haitians of courage will understand it. Haitians who are ready to fight will understand it. That is the drumbeat that sounded at Bocozelle [where peasant farmers rose up against landowners]. That is the truth I came to see — implicitly! secretly! — but I came to see it nonetheless. And when I saw it, I held onto it! I held tight! And it revitalized me. It let me understand that my people are a people of courage. Days came and went — February 7, 1986 was about to be set in motion. That is the quest that Vodou taught me.
I’m not saying “go practice Vodou, sprinkle water for the spirits” — no. That’s not the question, no, that’s not it. It’s that strength, that capacity for resistance that I found within the peristil. And I found it again, later, in the ti legliz [Catholic churches preaching liberation theology]. The current was always there… heheh. The current was flowing, the current knows nothing of the borders between the Vodou peristil and the church of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — no! The current doesn’t know anything about those kinds of borders. Wherever it finds an outlet, it gushes out! Like hot water ready to boil! It finds an outlet under a mapou tree, it gushes out! It finds an outlet under layers of rock, it gushes out! It doesn’t choose. It pushes ahead. And that is what I discovered at Saut d’Eau, Ville Bonheur. That’s what I discovered in the Artibonite, that it what I came to understand, deep in the countryside, from Aristène Jecrois: one day, the Ginen spirits are going to come back, they’re coming to purge the country and drive the devils out, so that the brave people can rebuild their home. That’s the message contained in the songs. That’s the message contained each beat of the drum. And that is why, on Radio Haiti, the drum never stops beating.
Blog post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. Translation by Laura Wagner and Tanya Thomas.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
During my tenure as the Research Services Graduate Intern at the Rubenstein Library, I had the great fortune of exploring the fascinating history of the four humors, a topic that is far afield from my doctoral research on the culinary history of New Orleans. Setting aside my copy La Cuisine Creole, I picked up a first edition of Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna (1612) and paged through whimsical woodcuts that featured long swordsmen, lions, and laurelled lutenists. Although New Orleans’ history is bedazzled by myth, that of the four humors seems surreal, emerging out of a world occupied by dragons and vengeful gods. What resulted from my foray into this cosmos is a new exhibit in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, entitled, “A Delicate Balance: Understanding the Four Humors.”
The four humors were a means of analyzing a person’s disposition as well as her physical, mental, and emotional health. Within this belief system, every person had a unique humoral composition that shaped her behavior, appearance, and interactions with the broader world. Visualized as bodily fluids whose levels were constantly in flux, Hippocrates named the four humors black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, and blood. Each humor was paired with one of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air and was assigned qualities of cold, moist, dry, and hot. Their influence on the body changed with external factors like the time of day, the season of the year, and the age of a person.
The origins of this medical philosophy and practice are attributed to the Indian Ayurveda system of medicine as well as ancient Greek, Roman, and Islamic physicians. This holistic approach to human health was pervasive in the Medieval and Early Modern periods and remained a common means of assessing and treating the human body until major advancements transformed medical practices in the mid-nineteenth century.
Prior to these innovations, medical practitioners sought to help ailing patients by restoring the delicate balance of the humors and did so through techniques such as bloodletting and herbal remedies. The new exhibit features a bloodletting fleam that a physician would have used to lance open a vein to remove excess blood from the body so as to bring equilibrium to a patient’s internal fluids. In the United States, doctors employed bloodletting through the Civil War to treat soldiers suffering from infection and fever.
Consumption also played a major role in balancing the four humors. Throughout Early Modern Europe, for example, physicians kept gardens with plants that were assigned to a particular humor. They believed that patients could restore their bodies to full health by consuming carefully crafted herbal remedies comprised of stems, leaves, fruits, and nuts. Practitioners organized gardens to represent the potency of medicinal plants. Some of these historic gardens still exist today. The circular Minerva Garden in Salerno Italy, for example, is divided into four quadrants representing the four humors with the most potent plant life at the center of the garden. This garden is a physical embodiment of the healing powers ascribed to plants within the humoralist system.
In the next few weeks, I encourage you to visit the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room on the first floor of the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library so as to glimpse into the rich history of the four humors and their impact on medical practices in the Early Modern period through today.
Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.
Seeking state recognition for his marriage, Jim Obergefell became the lead plaintiff in the landmark United States Supreme Court case that would legalize same-sex marriage across the United States 2015. A resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, Obergefell and his longtime partner, John Arthur traveled to Maryland to officially marry in 2013, with Arthur having been diagnosed with ALS. After his husband’s death, Obergefell entered a legal battle with the state of Ohio to be recognized as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. His case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, combined with other lawsuits, to become known as Obergefell v. Hodges. On June 26, 2015, the court ruled that the Constitution supports same-sex marriage for the entirety of the United States.
Mr. Obergefell’s book, Love Wins, will be available to purchase at the Gothic Bookshop in the Bryan Center and at a table during the event. A book signing will follow the event.
Co-sponsored by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Blue Devils United, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Duke LGBTQ Network, the Duke University Union, and Steven Petrow T’78.
Date: Thursday, September 15 Time: 3:30-5:00 p.m. Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153 Optional RSVP on Facebook
Feminist activist and advertising critic Jean Kilbourne’s pioneering work has helped develop and popularize the study of gender representations in advertising. Her presentation will show if and how the image of women has changed over the past 20 years and powerfully illustrates how these images affect us all. She is the creator of the renowned Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series and the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.
The Rubenstein Library recently acquired a collection of letters and diaries from Harry Bernard Glazer, an American soldier who served in the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in France, Germany, and Austria in the closing months of World War II. Glazer was an excellent writer and tended towards introspection, so his letters and diaries are full of description and analysis of the war, his efforts to enlist, his training, and his off-duty excursions with his friends and dates. The archive is especially interesting because Glazer writes openly and poignantly about his experiences as a Jewish soldier and the role of his faith in motivating his effort to enlist and fight the Nazis.
One component of the archive is a lot of V-Mail, which Harry began to use when he was stationed overseas in 1944. V-Mail, short for Victory Mail, was developed by the postal service as a way to reduce weight and speed up mail delivery between the United States and soldiers overseas. Letters were required to fit onto a single sheet of paper, like so:
and were folded up and mailed, like so:
They would be routed through the wartime censors and then forward to a V-Mail processing center, which would essentially microfilm the letter and discard the original. The microfilmed negative would be transported to the U.S., and then blown up to a miniature photocopy and forwarded on to its intended addressee. The instructions on the back of the V-Mail form clarify the process:
The photocopied mini-letter would arrive in a tiny envelope, like this:
And it would be up to the reader to have some good reading glasses! The letters from Harry Glazer to his mother document how quickly V-Mail shifted from being a novelty to being an annoyance for him. He would number his V-Mails lest they arrive out of order, so his family would be able to reassemble them.
Kids across North Carolina will begin trudging back to school this month, trading in the freedom of summer for the mysteries of the hypotenuse and iambic pentameter. Many of them will, of course, be asking that age-old question: why do I have to learn this? As a young North Carolinian, I frequently puzzled over the usefulness of math, plate tectonics, and why knowing that President Taft got stuck in a bathtub was so essential to my educational development. Did my predecessors complain about school? Undoubtedly. What would they have been complaining about? That is the question this post sets out to answer.
The Rubenstein Library holds many items that offer a glimpse into North Carolina school rooms during the 19th century. Schools of the past would be unrecognizable to students today. Early North Carolina schools were rarely described in positive terms and helped contribute to the state’s reputation as the “Rip van Winkle state.” Until the 1880s, public education in the state was a local affair. County school boards reigned supreme while the state superintendent had little power and remained a distant figure in Raleigh. School funds were largely raised at the local level and many school buildings were built by local community members. Schools were small, often just a single room, and operated in four-month sessions to accommodate students who were needed on the family farm. The curriculum for young North Carolinians reflected the common school model that was popular in 19th century America. Students of all ages and levels were taught in one classroom by one teacher who relied on memorization and repetitive oral exercises to educate the group. A student learned at his own pace, and grades, as we think about them today, did not exist. There was also an emphasis on moral instruction. Local communities saw schools as the place (other than church) to form good, responsible citizens for the future.
As it did with most aspects of American life, the Civil War brought change to the classroom. This transformation was slow- attempts to improve the school system were hampered by the state’s poverty following the war and budget woes that lingered into the 1870s and 1880s. But as the state slowly became a more urban one, railroads extended their reach, and industrial growth offered new lines of work, state leaders recognized that a new educational model was needed if the state was to join the modern “New South.” To that end, school reformers turned to the graded school model that first took hold in antebellum New England. Graded schools were based on standardization. Students were promoted to a new grade level only after they had met a certain criteria. Written examinations, rather than public oral recitations, became a way of marking progress and obtaining a good grade was necessary for academic success. Memorization gave way to an emphasis on students understanding the information and being able to apply what they had learned. The first graded schools in North Carolina opened around 1870, but began to spread across the state in the 1880s and 1890s
The school register shown above provides a place for teachers to list the “books used” for instruction. The Rubenstein Library has a number of these registers from across the state and a fairly long list of textbooks used by students can be generated through the registers. Luckily for us, the library holds many of the listed titles.
If I had been a student in the 19th century, The Elements of Algebra would have been my least favorite textbook. Unlike the large math textbooks of today, this volume fits easily in one hand and is filled with text. Problems are immediately followed by solutions. The equations and steps needed to solve the problem are rarely shown. The problems are strikingly practical. For children in the rural South, learning to calculate the number of oxen a farmer purchased would seem like a useful skill. Calculating the length of cloth or the division of a man’s estate upon his death would also have been familiar to students.
Like math books, spelling books or spellers are commonly listed in the registers. The state of North Carolina published its own speller in 1892 and it is a surprisingly good read. Described as “a complete graded course in orthography,” this book was a product of the state’s graded school movement. Tailored to North Carolina classrooms, the preface explains that the book is intended to “aid Southern children in acquiring the pure language of America as it is found in the South.” In addition to listing practice words of increasing complexity, the book provides passages and poems that can be used to practice spelling the words in context. These chunks of text are often quotes from prominent North Carolinians, like Zebulon Vance, or lofty odes to the wonders of the state. My particular favorite is the anonymous passage that says “You must love your State very much. It is the best land on earth for a good home. Do not think that you can find more joy in some State far off, for all who go from our State soon want to come back.”
Geography seems like it would have been the most fun subject for students. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s geography books were popular and heavily illustrated. Maury’s First Lessons in Geography takes students on a trip around the world. One lesson begins with an invitation: “Would you like to go to sea? Suppose we take an imaginary voyage from Norfolk to Spain, that certain things may be explained to you, and your lessons made easier to learn.” Readers are taken on a journey through all of the continents and make brief stops to learn about each area. During a stop in China, students would learn about foot binding, rice, and religious beliefs. Writing in the late 1870s, Maury, unsurprisingly, has few good things to say about non-Western people. The Chinese, for instance, are described as starving “heathens.” Maury, however, can hardly find anything negative to say about England, France, or, of course, the United States.
We’ve come a long way from the one-room school house. Our textbooks and school records look significantly different than they did in the 19th century. It has been a while since I took the SAT, but I doubt casks of brandy or “the pure language of America as it is found in the South” were involved. While the lack of constant standardized testing and four month school terms may seem exciting to students today, I remain grateful that I went to school in a time of air conditioning and indoor plumbing.
Leloudis, James L. Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator.
Help the Hartman Center solve a mystery! Recently we acquired a photograph, dated circa 1949, of a woman working on art and layout for what appears to be a Chevrolet poster. A man is standing behind her watching as she labors on a snowman at a drawing table.
What we can put together from the photograph is that the image on the drawing board is similar to the snowman featured on a poster for Chevrolet Radio Service that is affixed to the wall above the woman. A recent online auction for a similar Chevrolet Dealers’ Service Department poster, by Barrett-Jackson, dated the campaign to the 1950s and likely it is the early 1950s based on some of the design elements. The Campbell-Ewald agency held the Chevrolet advertising account during this period.
If you have any information about the people in this photograph, who likely worked at Campbell-Ewald on the Chevrolet account in the 1940s-1950s, please contact the Hartman Center at email@example.com. Thank you!
Post contributed by Richard Collier, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
The Rubenstein Library’s Latin Manuscript 159 includes fragments of two well-known texts by Seneca the Younger (or Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 BCE – 65 CE), the Roman Stoic philosopher, as well as an epitaph for Seneca. This modest manuscript is comprised of only two small leaves of vellum, apparently separated from a florilegium (a medieval compilation of writings assembled by a scholar). A mid-12th century manuscript, it likely derives from Northern France. Duke University acquired it in 1995.
Latin MS 159 is an exciting piece, even though these surviving bits don’t include a single complete text by Seneca. Among the texts included, however, are the majority of letter 79 from Seneca’s Epistulae ad Lucilium (Letters to Lucilius) and the opening of his De Beneficiis (On Benefits). Letter 79 has been described by scholars as a discourse on scientific discovery. In it, Seneca asks his correspondent Lucilius to climb Aetna (Mount Etna) in Sicily to make first-hand observations, and to write something from his impressions. Climbing a volcano is no easy thing, but Seneca is crafty in his shaming: “Now if Aetna does not make your mouth water, I am mistaken in you” (“Aut ego te non novi aut Aetna tibi salivam movet”).*
The recto of the second surviving leaf contains the opening of De Beneficiis (On Benefits or On Gifts and Services). This work concerns the giving and receiving of benefits, but also how to express gratitude appropriately. For this Stoic, ingratitude is pervasive in humanity: “Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude” (“Nec mirum est inter plurima maximaque vitia nullum esse frequentius quam ingrati animi”).
We’re fortunate (and grateful, Seneca!) to have this manuscript, which has a family relationship with two other pieces in our collection. Seneca was the uncle of the poet Lucan, and the Rubenstein Library has two important Lucan manuscripts in our collection, Latin 118 and Latin 125. These manuscripts – along with our many other early manuscripts – are invaluable for teaching and research. Contact us for more information about our early manuscript collection!
*Translations from the Loeb Classical Library.
Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services.
“The babies are entered like any other exhibit at an agricultural fair. . . . They are examined by judges, just as live stock [sic], grain or apples are examined. . . . The result is bound to be – not prettier babies, – but better babies at each year’s fair, – a stronger, healthier race of people on the farms, in small towns and in the state.”
This excerpt from a Better Babies Bureau circular, from the papers of Victor Bassett, contains several templates for Better Baby Contest advertisements. Popular at local fairs in the early 20th century, Better Baby Contests presented a lighthearted way to challenge infant mortality and promote fitter populations. However, they also reveal governmental eugenic efforts to objectively quantify and thus improve American health.
Examiners judged children under five years old on their measurements and proportions, mental and developmental states, vision and hearing, and physical development. These tests set government-determined averages as the standard by encouraging families to “produce” children who met or exceeded these ideals. Additionally, they served to cement the public health as existing in the realm of scientific medicine and the government, rather than in the home. These kinds of contests illustrate the complex relationship between eugenics, popular movements, and public health.
Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, my visit to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library allowed me to conduct research to support my dissertation, “Measuring Health: The United States Sanitary Commission, Statistics, and American Public Health in the Nineteenth Century.” I examine the statistical work of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).
During the American Civil War, the USSC attempted to improve the health of the Union Army. The leaders of this organization understood their work as forwarding ideas about preventative medicine and improving sanitation. Yet with the entirety of the Union army at their disposal, the USSC also inspected and measured over one million soldiers and sailors. These records include tabulations not simply of height and weight, but also the distance between a man’s eyes, the size of his head, and angles of his face. The statisticians presented their findings in groups divided by race and education level, and, while they provided limited interpretation of these numbers, they were made available to the broader scientific and anthropologic communities. It was in their hands that these numbers defined medical standards for Americans and shaped the nature of American public health.
My project explores why these statistics were collected and how they were used, and, more broadly, the Commission’s public health legacy. By using these statistics as a starting point, I explore the ties between the USSC and changes in public health, and how research from a 19th century organization continues to impact later public health issues. These Better Baby Contests represent the Commission’s legacy of measuring the quality and usefulness of a human being and of using governmental authority to establish scientific authority.
Post contributed by Sara Kern, a Ph.D. candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University