SWEDLUND, Alan C.
Shadows in the valley: A cultural history of illness, death, and loss in New England, 1840-1916.Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.
"...The study is organized for the most part around disease categories and the life cycle, so that the cultural framework of people's habits and values often seems secondary. Most of what we learn about illness and death in between 1840 and 1880 (the core decades of the study) will not surprise anyone familiar with these matters during this well-studied historical time. Infectious illness was rife, life expectancy at birth was low, medicine was various and largely ineffective, government was weak, and religion and community were the contexts in which families faced death and loss. Swedlund's research is deep and spans many different kinds of texts, from census reports to material objects. His chapters on childhood diseases and on tuberculosis make particularly good use of the range of sources, and add the heft of local detail to the broader perspectives of epidemiology and medical practice. Other chapters are less well formed, especially one in which discussions of pregnancy, men's industrializing labor, and the Civil War yield too many strands to be tied into a clear argument.
The people of Deerfield, like those of many New England towns, managed over time to preserve not only public records but also powerful personal texts—diaries and letters—that evoke the reality of losing a child to death or struggling to relieve the suffering of a spouse. Swedlund has come up with several fine diarists, and he includes generous swatches of text that make it possible to enter into the descriptive and imaginative worlds of his subjects. Presented with respect and care, the words of these women and men more often illustrate than drive the analysis. An exception to this is the final chapter, where Swedlund looks closely at certain practices surrounding death—cemetery art, memorial rituals, and the poignant desire of families to prepare bodies for burial and keep personal mementos close. Individuals we have met earlier in the book reappear and seem more fully at home in their beliefs than at any other point in the study. Children are throughout the book, and in this final chapter, on the last page, Swedlund observes of his work, "The one persistent theme I discovered was the genuine, heartfelt grief of a parent at the loss of a child" (p. 190). It suggests a theme that might have been used in a critical way to pull together into a cultural whole all that the book has to say about Deerfield and death" (https://muse.jhu.edu/article/447551)
Subjects: ANTHROPOLOGY › Medical Anthropology, EPIDEMIOLOGY › History of Epidemiology, Social or Sociopolitical Histories of Medicine & the Life Sciences, U.S.: CONTENT OF PUBLICATIONS BY STATE & TERRITORY › Massachusetts
Beyond germs: Native depopulation in North America. Edited by Catherine M. Cameron, Paul Kelton, and Alan C. Swedlund.Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2015.
This book "challenges the “virgin soil” hypothesis that was used for decades to explain the decimation of the indigenous people of North America. This hypothesis argues that the massive depopulation of the New World was caused primarily by diseases brought by European colonists that infected Native populations lacking immunity to foreign pathogens. In Beyond Germs, contributors expertly argue that blaming germs lets Europeans off the hook for the enormous number of Native American deaths that occurred after 1492.
Subjects: ANTHROPOLOGY › Medical Anthropology, COUNTRIES, CONTINENTS AND REGIONS › United States , NATIVE AMERICANS & Medicine, Social or Sociopolitical Histories of Medicine & the Life Sciences