Tag Archives: science

Tuberculean Chic: How the White Plague Shaped Beauty Standards in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Marissa and Sarah discuss Georgians’ and Victorians’ love affair with Tuberculosis and the tuberculean aesthetic in fashion and art. In Georgian London, some diseases started to seem fashionable, desirable even. Gambling was popular, elites were using snuff and drinking spirits, powdering their hair, whitening their faces with toxic creams, damaging their bodies with restrictive clothes and hairstyles. Ladies of fashion were perceived to be particularly vulnerable to disease and this made them even more attractive. This is the context where tuberculosis first began shaping beauty standards. The Victorians took this even further. Pre-Raphaelite painters, their models, and the discovery of the tubercle bacillus germ brought new classed and gendered meanings to the tuberculean chic.

A thank-you to Carolyn Day and Amelia Rauser whose work was invaluable in producing this episode.

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Show Notes & Further Reading

Brandt, Chris. “Tuberculosis And Its Impact On Medicine, Research, And Fashion Trends.University Herald. 

Byrne, Katherine. Tuberculosis and the Victorian Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Day, Carolyn A., and Amelia Rauser. 2016. “Thomas Lawrence’s Consumptive Chic: Reinterpreting Lady Manners’s Hectic Flush in 1794”. Eighteenth-Century Studies. 49, no. 4: 455-474.

Denoyelles, Adrienne. “Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free: Tuberculosis in Progressive Era New York City.” Nursing Clio. 

Dubos, René J., Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz, and Jean Dubos. The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man, and Society. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Fleming, R. S. “Victorian Feminine Ideal; about the perfect silhouette, hygiene, grooming, & body sculpting.”

Goetz, Thomas. “When TB Was a Death Sentence: An Excerpt From ‘The Remedy,’” The Daily Beast. 

Helsinger, Elizabeth. “Pre-Raphaelitism.” The Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. Felluga, Dino Franco, Pamela K. Gilbert and Linda K. Hughes (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2015. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 April 2017.

Mullin, Emily. “How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. 

Rothman, Sheila M. Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.




Science, Reform, and Anti-Vivisection

Things have been pretty political around here lately, so we wanted to dig into something that’s just fascinating and, frankly, creepy: anti-vivisection, or the 19th century campaign to end scientific and medical experimentation on living animals. Join Averill and Sarah as they talk about the practice of vivisection and the efforts to stop it. Also, a word of warning: we use some nineteenth century language when reading quotes, and also describe some pretty graphic events. You might want to turn it down if you’re sensitive or listening with kids.

Sources & Further Reading 

A History of Anti-vivsection from 1800s to the Present: Part I (1800-1914).

Dissecting the Living: Vivisection in Early Modern England,” Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

Davis, Janet M. “The History of Animal Protection in the United States.” The American Historian. 

Johnson, Eric. “Charles Darwin and Vivisection Outrage,” Scientific American, October 6, 2011.

Frances Power Cobbe.

Markel, Howard. “Case Shined First Light on Abuse of Children,” New York Times, December 14, 2009.

McCurry, Justin. “Japan Revisits its darkest moments where American POWs became human experiments,” The Guardian, August 13, 2015.

McNeill, Leila. “Women, Animals, and the Poetry of Activism,” Nursing Clio. 

Prosecution at Norwich: Experiment on Animals,” The British Medical Journal, December 12, 1874.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

Renaissance Anatomy.

Huddled Masses: Unwanted Immigrants in the Americas

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America prides itself on being a country of immigrants – after all, everyone in the United States is the descendant of an immigrant, whether forced and free, unless they are Native American. Americans believe that we offer a place of welcome so much that we emblazoned it onto the Statues of Liberty in the form of Emma Lazarus’s poem, The New Colossus, with those famous lines about the poor, tired, and huddled masses. But like most things in history, the real story is a lot more complicated. Join Averill, Marissa, and Sarah as they talk about the history of those who were turned away at the gates.

Show Notes & Further Reading: 

Baynton, Douglas. Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Canaday, Margot. “”Who is a Homosexual?”: The Consolidation of Sexual Identities in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Immigration Law.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 2, 2003., pp. 351-386. 

Leavitt, Judith Walzer. Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Turner, Adam. “Paranoia on the Border: Immigration and Public Health.” Nursing Clio, July 2014.

Selling Vegetarianism

There’s a lot more to vegetarianism than meets the eye. In this episode, Averill, Sarah, and Tommy talk turkey – or, maybe tofurkey? – and graham crackers, the corpses of baby fawns, and the Beef-Steak Chapel. Listen, learn, and laugh with us today on the History Buffs Podcast.

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Show Notes & Further Reading

Berry, Ryan. “From cowherd to cornflakes: the religious roots of modern vegetarianism” Animals’ Agenda v18 i6 Nov 1998.

Collingham, Lizzie Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Oxford, UK: University of Oxford Press, 2006.

Johnson, James. The influence of tropical climates on European constitutions, including practical observations on the nature and treatment of the diseases of Europeans on their return from tropical climates. London, UK: Callow Medical Book Seller, 1815.

Maurer, Donna. Vegetarianism: Movement or Moment: Promoting a LIfestyle for Cult Change. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2010.

Marranca, Richard. “Vegging out with Kung Fu and Star Trek.” Vegetarian Journal i4 2007.

Sinha, Mrinalini. Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the’ Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995.

Streets, Heather. Martial Races: the Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2004), 19.

Whorton, James C. “Historical Development of Vegetarianism.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994.

Frankenstein: Monster of the Enlightenment

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created two of the most enduring characters in literary history with her 1818 work Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.  You’re probably familiar with modern depictions of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster,  whether through the classic Boris Karloff films, the cartoon incarnation from Hotel Transylvania, or Mel Brooks’ tap dancing duo in Young Frankenstein. What is it about the story of Victor Frankenstein and his grotesque creation that has stayed in the public consciousness for nearly two hundred years?


Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster in The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935 | Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

We’ll dive more deeply into Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and their continued grip on our collective psyche in this week’s cast. Before we do, though, we’d like to share some more background on the tale and its enduring legacy.

 One of the most prominent and popular interpretations of the book right after it was written held that the doctor and his monster represented humanity’s attempts to seize power from God. Victor Frankenstein is “playing God” when he creates life in his monster. He is soundly punished for this transgression, as the monster destroys his family and friends one by one. By the end of the work, Dr. Frankenstein is left devastated and alone.

Dr. Frankenstein’s punishment for dabbling in divine domains seemed a kind of warning to those living in the era of the Enlightenment: trespass into matters beyond the human realm, and face God’s wrath.


Franciso de Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son  | Public Domain/Wikimedia

The theme of divine retribution also echoes through the Romantic art of the period. One of our favorite professors at the University at Buffalo,  Dr. Don McGuire, often assigns Frankenstein as required reading to his students. He pairs it with a painting by Francisco Goya entitled Saturn Devouring His Son, as the two works have striking parallels. 

Drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, Goya’s painting depicts the Titan Saturn, or Cronus, eating his own children as they were born.  According to the myth, it had been foretold to Saturn that one of his children was destined to overthrow him in the future. Fearing this loss of status and power, the Titan his children as a threat. He therefore devours them, one by one.

Like Shelly’s Frankenstein, Goya’s painting acts as a warning to society that if one tries to overthrow the natural order of the world, there will be dire consequences.  It also raises questions on the extent to which that-which-has-been-created, whether monster or child, can pose an existential threat to its parents. The case of Saturn is a more obvious example, but Dr. Frankenstein can also been viewed as a direct threat to God’s presumed omnipotence in nineteenth-century Europe.  Seen in this light, the painting and the story are also cautionary tales about the lengths to which the parent will go to ensure that such a transgression does not happen again.


Frankenstein’s Monster says You Are Beautiful,” Marc Moss | Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Did this whet your appetite?  Good!  Then join Averill, Marissa and Sarah as they talk about Mary Shelley, her monstrous book, and what it has meant to readers across the centuries.


Show Notes & Further Reading

Bennett, Betty T., and Stuart Curran. Mary Shelley in Her Times. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Crook, Nora. “Mary Shelley, Author of Frankenstein.” Blackwells Companion to the Gothic. New York: Wiley, 2001.

Flesher, Caroline McCracken. The Doctor Dissected: A Cultural Autopsy of the Burke & Hare Murders. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2011.

George Forster, Executed at Newgate, 18th of January, 1803, Newgate Calendar.

Hoeveler, Diane. “Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory.”

Laston, Jennifer. Did A Real-Life Alchemist Inspire Frankenstein. TIME.

Mary Shelley, Biography.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women. Garden City: Doubleday, 1976.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1988. 

Rosner, Lisa. The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Ruston, Sharon. “The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” 

Sappol, Michael. A Traffic in Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Ninteenth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Seimsen, Cynthia. “Wollenstonecraft, Mary.” Blackwell Companion to Sociology. New York: Wiley, 2007.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus

Feature Image: “Frankenstein At Work In His Laboratory,” from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus, 1922 Cornhill edition | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons