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From the Stacks - HSP's Collection and the Story of Pennsylvania's Health

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Author and Historian James Higgins examines resources in HSP's collection relating to the story of public health in Pennsylvania.

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“The history of medicine in Pennsylvania is no less vital to understanding the state’s past than is its political or industrial history,” writes James Higgins in The Health of the Commonwealth, his overview of medicine and public health in the state. Covering the outbreak of yellow fever in 1793 through the 1976 Legionnaires' Disease epidemic, and the challenges of the present day, he shows how Pennsylvania has played a central role in humanity’s understanding of—and progress against—disease.

The archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania offer an intriguing look at the development of health and medicine in Pennsylvania. Among the most important of those records are the papers of Samuel Gibson Dixon, a prominent scientist, president of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science, and the state’s first commissioner of health. His papers, alone, cover forty years of medical history in Pennsylvania. The archives also offer source material concerning the development of hospitals and nursing in Philadelphia and the state. The treasures in the archives, great and small, formed a major part of the foundation for The Health of the Commonwealth, as well as the author’s other published works and lectures. The collections at HSP related to the history of medicine are a starting point for numerous future thesis, dissertations, and scholarly articles and monographs.

Speaker's Bio: James Higgins is a lecturer in history at Rider University. His research concentrates on public health in the United States, especially Pennsylvania and its cities. Higgins has published a number of scholarly articles and a dozen academic papers. Most importantly, he believes that a citizenry educated about the history of medicine and public health will make better choices for their communities. His first book, Health of the Commonwealth was published in late-2020 by Temple University Press.

About this Series:

This program is part of HSP’s new virtual programming series: “From the Stacks,” which highlights topics or materials from HSP's collections. Our collections contain over 21 million items, encompassing centuries of American history. This series, held over the Zoom platform, will feature author talks, living history performances, conversations with staff, and more!

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