The Zoonotic Nature of Tuberculosis

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 4:10 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Daniel Vandersommers, McMaster University
My paper will examine a series of moments in the intertwined history of tuberculosis and the National Zoological Park in the first decade of the twentieth century. This paper also seeks to direct attention toward the opportunities that zoological parks (their laboratories, veterinary clinics, and medical records) hold for historians of medicine, science, and public health. The first moment foregrounds federal policies concerning public health and education, explaining how government sought to subdue the “Great White Plague” within federal institutions. This section focuses on popular conceptions of the disease as well as on the public policies derived from them. It uses the zoo as a window into federally organized public health programs, but, at the same time, gestures towards the limits and flaws of the policies. The second moment describes the “discovery” of tuberculosis within the National Zoological Park and outlines the numerical prevalence of the disease among the zoo’s inhabitants. This section details the symptoms of tuberculosis in a few animals and shows how these animals were diagnosed. The paper then turns to the year of 1912, when the Washington public began to worry about tuberculosis within their zoo. The fourth moment examines the correspondence of zoo officials concerning tuberculosis and highlights both the contested nature of the disease and the interconnectivity of zoo networks. The paper concludes by showing how the zoo functioned as a medical institution that not only gathered statistics about tuberculosis’s deadly nature, but also constructed knowledge about the disease itself— knowledge that influenced how the disease was treated both inside and outside the institution of the zoo.
See more of: Zoos and Global History
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