By surveying myriad ways that twentieth-century American experts and nonexperts grappled with the health implications of aerial exposures to lead or substances that may have contained lead, this paper urges medical historians’ attention toward environments—workplaces, homes and the outdoors—and their extrabodily ontology. Health histories framed around dust, toxins, fumes, and pollution rather than around particular diseases challenge long-accepted narratives, such as Hibbert Hill’s old generalization about a “New Public Health” shift from “the environment to the individual.” Greater environmental focus can also advance “bottom-up” health history. Pushing the gaze of twentieth-century medical and public health historians beyond hospitals, “public health” departments, clinically confirmable disease, and “patient” roles, it draws historians’ attention to health-related realms in which laypeople often claimed greater knowledge and competence.


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pp. 255-291
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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