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The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle against Filth and Germs

David S. Barnes

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Explores the scientific and social factors that continue to influence the public's lingering uncertainty over how disease can—and cannot—be spread.

Late in the summer of 1880, a wave of odors enveloped large portions of Paris. As the stench lingered, outraged residents feared that the foul air would breed an epidemic. Fifteen years later—when the City of Light was in the grips of another Great Stink—the public conversation about health and disease had changed dramatically. Parisians held their noses and protested, but this time few feared that the odors would spread disease.

Historian David S…

Explores the scientific and social factors that continue to influence the public's lingering uncertainty over how disease can—and cannot—be spread.

Late in the summer of 1880, a wave of odors enveloped large portions of Paris. As the stench lingered, outraged residents feared that the foul air would breed an epidemic. Fifteen years later—when the City of Light was in the grips of another Great Stink—the public conversation about health and disease had changed dramatically. Parisians held their noses and protested, but this time few feared that the odors would spread disease.

Historian David S. Barnes examines the birth of a new microbe-centered science of public health during the 1880s and 1890s, when the germ theory of disease burst into public consciousness. Tracing a series of developments in French science, medicine, politics, and culture, Barnes reveals how the science and practice of public health changed during the heyday of the Bacteriological Revolution.

Despite its many innovations, however, the new science of germs did not entirely sweep away the older "sanitarian" view of public health. The longstanding conviction that disease could be traced to filthy people, places, and substances remained strong, even as it was translated into the language of bacteriology. Ultimately, the attitudes of physicians and the French public were shaped by political struggles between republicans and the clergy, by aggressive efforts to educate and "civilize" the peasantry, and by long-term shifts in the public's ability to tolerate the odor of bodily substances.

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Reviews

Reviews

Barnes's detailed and scholarly account is persuasive.

A well-developed study in medically related social history, it tells an intriguing tale and prompts us to ask how our own cultural contexts affect our views and actions regarding environmental and infectious scourges here and now.

Both a captivating story and a sophisticated historical study. Kudos to Barnes for this valuable and insightful book that both physicians and historians will enjoy.

Exemplary study... The argument of this book rests on an interesting amalgam of insights from critical theorists and social scientists.

The book's relevance to modern-day medical concerns will make it appealing to nurses, public health experts, and medical professionals in general.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
328
ISBN
9781421425658
Illustration Description
11 halftones, 4 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. "Not Everything That Stinks Kills"
2. The Sanitarians' Legacy, or How Health Became Public
3. Taxonomies of Transmission
4. Putting Germ Theory into Practice
5. Toward a

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. "Not Everything That Stinks Kills"
2. The Sanitarians' Legacy, or How Health Became Public
3. Taxonomies of Transmission
4. Putting Germ Theory into Practice
5. Toward a Cleaner and Healthier Republic
6. Odors and "Infection," 1880 and Beyond
Epilogue
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

David S. Barnes

David Barnes (PHILADELPHIA, PA) is an associate professor of the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle against Filth and Germs.