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Research Forum: “Microscopic Foes of Mankind”: Understanding Tuberculosis in American History
July 13, 2016 @ 9:00 am - 11:45 pm
This undergraduate research project explores the social experience of tuberculosis by engaging the public as an audience for a comprehensive effort to document the lives of Americans who died of this disease. This project engages the public’s interest in telling the stories of individuals and their communities in historical contexts. Researchers are now collecting information from obituaries and death notices published in American newspapers from 1870 to 1920, entering information into an online form that has both structured elements (name, date of death, and names of family members) and opportunities to add more information as relevant. These materials will be processed by the project team and made available to the public and scholars in forms familiar to historians and genealogists, such as mortality tables, analysis of age and race distribution, and discussion of illness narratives. The flexibility and ubiquity of digital medium are essential to this project. At a time of unprecedented interest in the nation’s past by genealogists and family historians, this project is a unique attempt to engage the public in creating, interpreting, and understanding the history of a deadly illness through the lives of Americans.
The project is currently in development. Viewers interested in learning more about this project can see the results of work done by Virginia Tech students who completed a history project on tuberculosis in Virginia in the spring 2015 semester. The results of their work can be seen at the Telling Victims’ Stories (link), the poster exhibit on display (link), and postings on Circulating Now, from the U S National Library of Medicine (link). For more information about this project, and future plans, please contact the project director, Tom Ewing.