Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America
- Duffin, Jacalyn
- Date of entry: Aug-10-2009
In four parts this book uses a wide variety of images--caricatures in newspapers, comic books, advertisements, and photojournalism of Life magazine--to explore attitudes to physicians and medical progress in the mass media from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Each section centers on a specific type of image and the analysis addresses change in perception of doctors and their achievements by privileging crucial moments of newsworthy events and discoveries.
Early in this history, the media portrayed doctors as frock-coat wearing fops. Medical metaphors used in a political context proclaimed these attitudes well. The story of four little boys, bitten by a dog in 1885 and sent to Pasteur in Paris for the newly invented rabies vaccination, is used as a pivot point for a transition in perceptions of medicine: from a clumsy, suspicious craft to a useful, progressive science.
The third section is devoted to the public fascination with the history of medicine in the period from 1920 to 1950, Films, newspaper articles, and comic books chart the insatiable taste for scientific success and medical progress. The last section studies images of progress in Life and other magazines through a meticulous analysis of health-related articles. In this section, Hansen shows how the media participated in educating the public to a definition of science that enjoyed an enthusiastically optimistic spin.
An appendix lists American radio dramas about medical history from 1935 to 1953. A wealth of sources are documented in the notes and the whole is completed with an intelligent index.
Rutger's University Press
New Brunswick, N.J.
This readable and lavishly illustrated history is highly original, for relying on images in the popular press as the primary source. In other words, aside from the observations of changes in perceptions of medical science, Hansen has also made a methodological discovery for historians. Each chapter could be used alone in teaching, but the whole is a handsome narrative of shifting social attitudes in several decades of important change.
The author has provided more information about the book complete with images that can be downloaded without copyright infringement: http://faculty.baruch.cuny.edu/bhansen/index.html