Category: History

The Lone Woman of Kokura

She was alone. The men and women of the domain were all gone. In their flight, they’d set the castle town afire to deny the enemy the prize they sought. There was no stopping the enemy now — there were more of them, and they were better trained, better equipped, and better armed. The only… Read more →

Joking in the Time of Pandemic: The 1889–92 Flu and 2020 COVID-19

As we see with COVID-19, the darkest periods in history expose the best — and worst — of humanity. Some people become virulently racist. Others spend hours caring for the most afflicted. Still more look for safe outlets to vent their fear and anger, often fleeing to laughter to do so. As a number of… Read more →

Plague in the Age of Twitter

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter over the past week. Some evenings, it feels like I can’t help myself. I scroll and refresh, watching as the numbers keep rising: total cases in New York, total cases in the US, restricted travel zones, conferences canceled. Even on their own, the numbers feel unmanageable,… Read more →

How the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Gave Working Women a Place to Breathe

In September of 1909, San Francisco’s businessmen opened the latest issue of the Merchants’ Association Review, looking forward to reading stories about the city’s recovery in the years since April 18, 1906. The earthquake on that spring day flattened the city’s financial center and its working-class district, and then reduced them to cinders in a… Read more →

Mesmerism, (Im)propriety, and Power Over Women’s Bodies

Mesmerism had promise. According to accounts of popular demonstrations and parlor séances of the 1830s through the 1850s, a subject in mesmeric sleep was immune to external stimuli; she (and it was often a girl or woman) couldn’t feel the pain of needles pricking her skin, smell pungent salts held under her nose, taste vinegar… Read more →

Pathologizing Politics: Eugenics and Political Discourse in the Modern United States

Carrie Buck was three months shy of her twenty-second birthday when she was forcibly sterilized on October 19, 1927. Buck’s fate was based on the 1924 Virginia eugenic sterilization law, which marked individuals for sterilization based on vague and misleading concepts such as immorality, defectiveness, weak-mindedness, and promiscuity.1 Eugenicists, social hygienists, and lawmakers passed state… Read more →

Eugenic Sperm

In 1974, a Los Angeles Times staff writer interviewed Dr. Donald Adler, a Beverly Hills gynecologist who ran a sperm bank out of his private practice.1 Adler described for the interviewer his process of selecting sperm donors for health and intelligence, and in turn the interviewer asked him whether he considered his practice eugenic. Adler,… Read more →

The Spaces of Screening: Tracing the Spatial Geographies of Mobile Mammography from Carparks to the Cosmos

In 2019, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) launched a new cancer detection initiative. In this pilot program, the NHS harnessed “technology developed for space travel” to design a series of mobile cancer screening vans, which have been placed in Sainsbury’s and Morrisons supermarket parking lots across Great Britain (Figure 1). Designed by the UK space… Read more →

Where a Pregnancy Can Last for Years: The Remarkable Colonial Reports of Sleeping Pregnancies in the Maghreb

A couple patiently waits for a healthy child after a pregnancy that has lasted several years. A desperate widow claims her newborn is her husband’s child, years after his death. Fetuses are made to “fall asleep” in the womb and hibernate there for years until woken up again. In the French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco,… Read more →

“Kiss Via Kerchief”: Influenza Warnings in 1918

Just over one hundred years ago, New York Health Commissioner Royal S. Copeland responded to the threat of “Spanish” influenza reaching the United States with the reassuring, if completely misguided, prediction that “there is nothing to be alarmed about so far as I can see.”1 Yet the part of Copeland’s warning that “went viral,” to… Read more →