The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle against Filth and Germs
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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This story begins and ends with a wave of foul odors in Paris. In 1880, a pervasive and disgusting stench afflicted the city for most of the summer, provoking a popular outcry and a minor political crisis. According to the consensus of medical experts and ordinary Parisians, the odors either could cause or did cause disease. In 1895, a similar stink arose in the city...
1 “Not Everything That Stinks Kills”: Odors and Germs in the Streets of Paris, 1880
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In the late summer of 1880 in Paris, death was in the air, and it smelled like excrement. That, at least, was the prevailing opinion at the time, shared and vociferously proclaimed by scientists, medical doctors, elected representatives, and ordinary Parisians. For more than two months, oppressive and insufferable odors pervaded the air of the capital...
2 The Sanitarians’ Legacy, or How Health Became Public
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When Napoleon I went into his final exile in 1815, the science of health in France—“hygiene”—was an abstraction, an ideal, a set of recipes for healthy bourgeois living. By the time his nephew took power in 1848, “hygiene” had gone “public,” and had grown into a quantitative, empirical domain of rigorous local investigation—the gritty science of filth, slums, and deviance...
3 Taxonomies of Transmission: Local Etiologies and the Equivocal Triumph of Germ Theory
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Typhoid fever is caused by a bacterium first identified by Karl Eberth in 1880 as Bacillus typhosus, and later renamed Salmonella typhi. The mere fact that a disease could be said to have a single cause (whether a microorganism or not) is the product of an epistemological sea change that took place between 1875 and 1900...
4 Putting Germ Theory into Practice
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Revolutionary etiological breakthroughs and the assimilation of time-honored sanitarian knowledge into the new language and new scientific paradigm of bacteriology were only the first steps in the establishment of a new public health regime in France. The new knowledge would prove barren if it did not produce practical strategies and policies to combat disease...
5 Toward a Cleaner and Healthier Republic
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When Jacques Botrel, epidemic doctor for the district of St.-
Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine) in Brittany, reported to the departmental
health board on the epidemics that had a
6 Odors and “Infection,” 1880 and Beyond
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The tireless efforts of provincial epidemic doctors in the 1880s and 1890s to convert the rural populace to the civilized standards of bacteriological hygiene produced mixed results. Like Parisians, provincial families embraced specific technologies promising immediate protection—such as disinfection and diphtheria antitoxin...
Epilogue: The Legacy of the Twentieth Century
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In 2001, more than a century after its founder’s death, the Pasteur Institute convened an international summit to review the state of hygiene and health at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The assembled authorities noted with concern that “in the ‘hygienized’ world, infectious diseases have reawakened.” Ironically, the chief culprit responsible for undermining decades of progress was identified as . . . progress itself...
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Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 4 line drawings, 11 halftones
Publication Year: 2006