Category: History

Writing Histories of Intimate Care and Social Distancing in the Age of COVID-19

In hindsight, it was probably a touch of grad school-induced hubris that led me to assert, in an early draft of my dissertation, that the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries were marked by chronic disease epidemics. I based this conclusion on the work of scholars like sociologist Bryan Turner, who in 1987 wrote almost… Read more →

The Vaccine at the End of this Pandemic

In the summer of 1952, parents didn’t let their children visit playgrounds, swimming pools were closed, movie theaters shuttered, and when September finally arrived, some public schools didn’t open. The polio epidemic reached its peak that year, after several years of steadily increasing numbers of infections and deaths. In early December 1952, The New York… Read more →

Art as a Tonic: Making Pottery and Defeating Tuberculosis at the Arequipa Sanatorium

In the spring of 1913 journalist Elise Roorbach was walking around downtown San Francisco when she passed a gift store. She saw some unusual vases in the window and went into the shop to look. They weren’t finely formed, and they didn’t have shiny glazes in pretty colors. Some were rather crude, with drip marks… Read more →

Luxury or Right? Artificial Insemination by Donor in 1970s France

Hungary recently made international headlines by announcing that the state would soon cover the cost of IVF treatments. Along with financial incentives for Hungarian women who produce four children, IVF will form part of Prime Minister’s Orban’s strategy for increasing the Hungarian birthrate. The announcement attracted international attention in part because Orban connected his support… Read more →

Training Future Wives and Mothers: Vocational Education and Assimilation at the Stewart Indian School

In 1879, the US government launched an expansive effort to restructure Indigenous lives by enrolling Native American children in off-reservation boarding schools. By the early 1900s, a network of federally managed boarding schools emerged across the country to “civilize” Native children. The architects of this system believed they had a mission to uplift and assimilate… Read more →

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 →