This dissertation examines the complex ways that public health practices developed in Victorian Britain, particularly how standards of scientific knowledge interacted with social and cultural ideas. My central argument is that cultural conceptions of milk as a wholesome, healthful food were intimately tied to and in some ways challenged by the rapidly developing sciences of epidemiology and analytical chemistry, creating a framework for public health policies. This was most apparent at the central level through the work of the Medical Department of the Local Government Board and the Government Chemical Laboratory of the Excise Department, and locally throughout Britain through the work of local Medical Officers of Health and Analytical Chemists.
I demonstrate that epidemiologists, chemists, and veterinarians, were the scientific translators of deeply embedded social concerns about purity and progress. These disciplines were largely framed by interactions with different facets of the public; scientific knowledge about milk and disease was reified by milk producers and milk consumers who stressed the importance of purity as representative of cultural progress and British superiority. Milk was not a static cultural or material product, and its cultural meaning and material use changed dramatically throughout the period I investigate. Such analysis sheds historical light on contemporary problems about food safety and reminds us that consumption practices are always embedded within cultural assumptions about nation, personhood, science, and progress.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2011. Major:History of Medicine and Biological Sciences. Advisor:John Eyler. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 359 pages.
The perfect food and the filth disease: milk, typhoid fever, and the science of state medicine in Victorian Britain, 1850-1900.
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