From Foetid Air to Filth: The Cultural Transformation of British Epidemiological Thought, ca. 1780-1848

Brown, Michael (2008) From Foetid Air to Filth: The Cultural Transformation of British Epidemiological Thought, ca. 1780-1848. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 82 (3). pp. 515-544. ISSN 0007-5140

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Abstract

Eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century ideas about the occurrence and spread of epidemic disease were complex and contested. Although many thought that diseases such as plague, typhus, and cholera were contagious and were communicated from person to person or via the medium of goods, others believed that they were the product of atmospheric change. Moreover, as historians have emphasized, the early nineteenth century saw a move from a multifactoral, climatic etiology toward one that prioritized specific local corruption of the atmosphere caused by putrefying animal and vegetable matter. In this paper, I extend this analysis by linking to recent literature on dirt and disgust and exploring the importance of theologies. I examine the work of two key figures in the history of British epidemiology, Charles Maclean and Thomas Southwood Smith, and demonstrate how the latter’s increasing emphasis upon the causal agency of filth was structured by his Unitarian faith and his belief in a universally benevolent God.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Uncontrolled Keywords:
/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/2900
Subjects:
ID Code:
175344
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
05 Sep 2022 11:00
Refereed?:
Yes
Published?:
Published
Last Modified:
05 Sep 2022 11:00