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Border Medicine

A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Brett Hendrickson

Mexican American folk and religious healing, often referred to as curanderismo, has been a vital part of life in the Mexico-U.S. border region for centuries. A hybrid tradition made up primarily of indigenous and Iberian Catholic pharmacopeias, rituals, and notions of the self, curanderismo treats the sick person with a variety of healing modalities including herbal remedies, intercessory prayer, body massage, and energy manipulation. Curanderos, “healers,” embrace a holistic understanding of the patient, including body, soul, and community.
Border Medicine examines the ongoing evolution of Mexican American religious healing from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Illuminating the ways in which curanderismo has had an impact not only on the health and culture of the borderlands but also far beyond, the book tracks its expansion from Mexican American communities to Anglo and multiethnic contexts.While many healers treat Mexican and Mexican American clientele, a significant number of curanderos have worked with patients from other ethnic groups as well, especially those involved in North American metaphysical religions like spiritualism, mesmerism, New Thought, New Age, and energy-based alternative medicines. Hendrickson explores this point of contact as an experience of transcultural exchange.
Drawing on historical archives, colonial-era medical texts and accounts, early ethnographies of the region, newspaper articles, memoirs, and contemporary healing guidebooks as well as interviews with contemporary healers, Border Medicine demonstrates the notable and ongoing influence of Mexican Americans on cultural and religious practices in the United States, especially in the American West.

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Breathing Race into the Machine

The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics

Lundy Braun

In the antebellum South, plantation physicians used a new medical device—the spirometer—to show that lung volume and therefore vital capacity were supposedly less in black slaves than in white citizens. At the end of the Civil War, a large study of racial difference employing the spirometer appeared to confirm the finding, which was then applied to argue that slaves were unfit for freedom. What is astonishing is that this example of racial thinking is anything but a historical relic.

In Breathing Race into the Machine, science studies scholar Lundy Braun traces the little-known history of the spirometer to reveal the social and scientific processes by which medical instruments have worked to naturalize racial and ethnic differences, from Victorian Britain to today. Routinely a factor in clinical diagnoses, preemployment physicals, and disability estimates, spirometers are often “race corrected,” typically reducing normal values for African Americans by 15 percent.

An unsettling account of the pernicious effects of racial thinking that divides people along genetic lines, Breathing Race into the Machine helps us understand how race enters into science and shapes medical research and practice.

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Breeding Contempt

The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States

Mark A. Largent

Most closely associated today with the Nazis and World War II atrocities, eugenics is sometimes described as a government-orchestrated breeding program, other times as a pseudo-science, and often as the first step leading to genocide. Less frequently is it depicted as a movement having links to the United States. But eugenics does have a history in this country, and Mark Largent tells that story by exploring one of the most disturbing aspects, the compulsory asterilization of more than 64,000 Americans.

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Broadcasting Birth Control

Mass Media and Family Planning

Manon Parry

Traditionally, the history of the birth control movement has been told through the accounts of the leaders, organizations, and legislation that shaped the campaign. Recently, historians have begun examining the cultural work of printed media, including newspapers, magazines, and even novels in fostering support for the cause. Broadcasting Birth Control builds on this new scholarship to explore the films and radio and television broadcasts developed by twentieth-century birth control advocates to promote family planning at home in the United States, and in the expanding international arena of population control.

Mass media, Manon Parry contends, was critical to the birth control movement’s attempts to build support and later to publicize the idea of fertility control and the availability of contraceptive services in the United States and around the world. Though these public efforts in advertising and education were undertaken initially by leading advocates, including Margaret Sanger, increasingly a growing class of public communications experts took on the role, mimicking the efforts of commercial advertisers to promote health and contraception in short plays, cartoons, films, and soap operas. In this way, they made a private subject—fertility control—appropriate for public discussion.

Parry examines these trends to shed light on the contested nature of the motivations of birth control advocates. Acknowledging that supporters of contraception were not always motivated by the best interests of individual women, Parry concludes that family planning advocates were nonetheless convinced of women’s desire for contraception and highly aware of the ethical issues involved in the use of the media to inform and persuade.

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Broken Hearts

The Tangled History of Cardiac Care

David S. Jones

Still the leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease challenges researchers, clinicians, and patients alike. Each day, thousands of patients and their doctors make decisions about coronary angioplasty and bypass surgery. In Broken Hearts David S. Jones sheds light on the nature and quality of those decisions. He describes the debates over what causes heart attacks and the efforts to understand such unforeseen complications of cardiac surgery as depression, mental fog, and stroke. Why do doctors and patients overestimate the effectiveness and underestimate the dangers of medical interventions, especially when doing so may lead to the overuse of medical therapies? To answer this question, Jones explores the history of cardiology and cardiac surgery in the United States and probes the ambiguities and inconsistencies in medical decision making. Based on extensive reviews of medical literature and archives, this historical perspective on medical decision making and risk highlights personal, professional, and community outcomes.

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Bulletin of the History of Medicine

Vol. 70 (1996) through current issue

A leading journal in its field for more than three quarters of a century, the Bulletin spans the social, cultural, and scientific aspects of the history of medicine worldwide. Every issue includes reviews of recent books on medical history. Bulletin of the History of Medicine is the official publication of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM) and the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine.

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The Burdens of Disease

Epidemics and Human Response in Western History, Revised Edition

J.N. Hays

In this updated edition of The Burdens of Disease, with revisions and additions to the original content, including the evolution of drug-resistant diseases and expanded coverage of HIV/AIDS, along with recent data on mortality figures and other relevant statistics, J. N. Hays chronicles perceptions and responses to plague and pestilence over two thousand years of western history. Disease is framed as a multidimensional construct, situated at the intersection of history, politics, culture, and medicine, and rooted in mentalities and social relations as much as in biological conditions of pathology.

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The Business of Private Medical Practice

Doctors, Specialization, and Urban Change in Philadelphia, 1900-1940

by James A. Schafer Jr.

Unevenly distributed resources and rising costs have become enduring problems in the American health care system. Health care is more expensive in the United States than in other wealthy nations, and access varies significantly across space and social classes. James A. Schafer Jr. shows that these problems are not inevitable features of modern medicine, but instead reflect the informal organization of health care in a free market system in which profit and demand, rather than social welfare and public health needs, direct the distribution and cost of crucial resources.The Business of Private Medical Practice is a case study of how market forces influenced the office locations and career paths of doctors in one early twentieth-century city, Philadelphia, the birthplace of American medicine. Without financial incentives to locate in poor neighborhoods, Philadelphia doctors instead clustered in central business districts and wealthy suburbs. In order to differentiate their services in a competitive marketplace, they also began to limit their practices to particular specialties, thereby further restricting access to primary care. Such trends worsened with ongoing urbanization.Illustrated with numerous maps of the Philadelphia neighborhoods he studies, Schafer’s work helps underscore the role of economic self-interest in shaping the geography of private medical practice and the growth of medical specialization in the United States.

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Catholicism, Race and Empire

Eugenics in Portugal, 1900-1950

By Richard Cleminson

This monograph places the science and ideology of eugenics in early twentieth century Portugal in the context of manifestations in other countries in the same period. The author argues that three factors limited the impact of eugenics in Portugal: a low level of institutionalization, opposition from Catholics and the conservative nature of the Salazar regime. In Portugal the eugenic science and movement were confined to three expressions: individualized studies on mental health, often from a ‘biotypological’ perspective; a particular stance on racial miscegenation in the context of the substantial Portuguese colonial empire; and a diffuse model of social hygiene, maternity care and puericulture.

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A Century of Eugenics in America

From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era

Edited by Paul A. Lombardo

In 1907, Indiana passed the world's first involuntary sterilization law based on the theory of eugenics. In time, more than 30 states and a dozen foreign countries followed suit. Although the Indiana statute was later declared unconstitutional, other laws restricting immigration and regulating marriage on "eugenic" grounds were still in effect in the U.S. as late as the 1970s. A Century of Eugenics in America assesses the history of eugenics in the United States and its status in the age of the Human Genome Project. The essays explore the early support of compulsory sterilization by doctors and legislators; the implementation of eugenic schemes in Indiana, Georgia, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Alabama; the legal and social challenges to sterilization; and the prospects for a eugenics movement basing its claims on modern genetic science.

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