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Chapter 2 The Now-Opprobrious Title of “Horse Doctor” Veterinarians and Professional Identity in Late Nineteenth-Century America Ann N. Greene American veterinary history has enormous promise as a research field, due to its archival resources and conceptual potential. However, its secondary literature is problematic and frustrating. With few exceptions, it portrays veterinarians as scientific professionals of the modern state,heroically battling animal disease from their laboratories and protecting public health and the agricultural economy.1 Written during the middle decades of the twentieth century as veterinarians struggled for status and identity, this literature positions veterinary medicine in the master narrative of scientific progress by modeling it after the prestigious fields of human medicine and bacteriology. However, paradigms from those fields elide more than they reveal of veterinarians’particular history.2 This chapter suggests some ways that we might begin to write a new American veterinary history. A curious feature of traditional veterinary history is that actual animals —material, historical animals—are largely absent. Instead, the focus is on various disease agents or the broad category of “livestock health,” shifting the location of veterinary history away from field practice and into the more prestigious setting of the laboratory. Laboratories are sup- The Now-Opprobrious Title of “Horse Doctor” |  posed to be generic spaces with invariable tools and practices that produce universal knowledge, in contrast to work in the field. As historian Robert Kohler writes, “Laboratory science seems always to be granted a higher standing than field science. . . . It is precisely the stripped down simplicity and invariability of labs—their placelessness—that gives them their credibility .”Field practice is“the result of a unique local history, never quite the same from one moment to the next, unpredictable, unrepeatable, beyond human control.”3 Veterinary medicine in the United States, which professionalized during the “golden age of bacteriology” that followed the introduction of germ theory in the 1870s, early hitched its wagon to the rising star of laboratory science, leaving a lacuna in veterinary history concerning the animals and human-animal relations of field practice. Veterinary medicine by necessity encompasses both field practice and laboratory science. As a profession, it is situated between laboratory and field, a place Kohler calls “a zone of mixed practices and ambiguous identities ” and “a place of mixed cultures, where . . . either side adopt each others’ practices and develop approaches that are neither pure lab or pure field.”4 This is the terrain a new veterinary history should explore. Traditional histories disparage early practitioners as ignorant, low-class “horse doctors.” This creates a historical problem, since, until at least the 1920s, the majority of veterinarians actually were horse doctors.As long as urban horses continued to provide the largest market for veterinarians, horse doctoring defined most of what veterinarians did, so much so that the decline in urban horse populations after 1915 created a significant crisis in the profession. However, veterinarians also treated other species. The equine-human relationship in veterinary medicine was different from the bovine-human, the swinehuman , the canine-human, the elephant- (and other zoo animals) human, or the disease agent- (“germ”) human relationship. A new history of veterinary medicine must examine both field practice and laboratory science and place the historicity and specificity of animals and human-animal relations at the center of its concern. It must start describing actual practice.5 How should one write such a history? The way to explore the terrain of “mixed practices and ambiguous identities” that constitutes veterinary history is by using the concept of ecology as a method of historical inquiry. Ecology considers specific communities of organisms, their internal relationships , and their interactions with their surroundings.6 Charles Elton, one of the founders of ecology, called it“scientific natural history”and emphasized attention to the various niches, or functions, of the members of an ecosystem. Because ecology emphasizes place and relationship, it provides a way for veterinary historians to bring field sites, laboratories, and  | Ann N. Greene human-animal relations together. Because ecology is attentive to change but not concerned with progress, the ecosystem concept avoids the problem of progress inherent in the analytical paradigm of professionalization. An ecological approach considers how ideas take form in specific places— in this case, how scientific ideas and altered concepts of diseases and therapeutics entered nineteenth-century society,the extent to which they altered perception and practice, and the characteristics and inhabitants of the sites where this process occurred.7 Finally, an ecological approach can bring the coevolution of humans and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780821443101
Related ISBN
9780821418857
MARC Record
OCLC
681350866
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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