Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Public Health & Public History

One issue that public historians might deal with is that of public health, particularly in the cities. The idea that clean drinking water and the removal of filth from the streets has a history that should be recognized. The history itself could be utilized by public health departments as a means of knowing what measures were taken * granted, measures that in the 21st century seem ridiculously stupid * yet the progression to present day measures can help in the understanding that the past was really quite different and that our approach to public health may not be the last in a sequence of progressive steps leading to a “public health nirvana.” Did a change in approach to public health occur quickly after the realization that the germ theory explained disease (ca. 1880s) instead of the post hoc propter hoc theory of miasmas as the cause of sickness? Are there any of you out there who have comments to make on the topic of the history of public health, a “natural” topic for exploration by public historians? Have any of you done work on the topic?

Opening comment

Attention all public historians, it is time to get to know one another and understand the nature of the work we do. I am convinced that one criterion for a public historian is that he/she does not teach. There are many other public and private arenas in which we work, but the variety of that work is not understood well enough. Where does your work fall under the umbrella of "public history?" I work for a state historical agency in the southeastern United States and my job description is ill defined, although that gives me great freedom to research and write about topics previously abandoned by historians of bygone eras. In any event, won't you comment on your situation as a public historian? Thanks.