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From Regimen to Regime: The Social Meaning of Nutrition, 1840-1910
February 22, 2016 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
William Coleman Dissertation Fellow (2015-2016)
History of Science, UW-Madison
Are our bodies the sum of our (chemical) parts, or are we more than that, the products of our particular background and culture? This talk delves into the question by examining a debate between chemistry and medicine about how to provision troops during the U.S. Civil War. At issue was an 1864 proposal by the chemist Eben Norton Horsford for a condensed ration that purported to contain all of the nutrients needed by a soldier in an ultraportable format. Horsford’s plan was opposed by Union Army physicians, who held that tradition and culture were the only reliable guides to diet, not science.
Through examining this conflict, I explore the fraught relationship between science and medicine in the mid-nineteenth century. Can scientific discoveries reliably engender improvements in medicine? How can we harmonize a materialist, universal vision of the human body with a holistic and particular one?
Molly Laas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Program of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at UW-Madison. Her work explores the intellectual cultures of science and medicine in the nineteenth century, focusing on the trans-Atlantic circulation of ideas about chemistry, physiology, health, and the interplay between science and social thought. Her work has been supported by a University Fellowship and a Chancellor’s Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin, a research assistantship from UW-Madison Center for German and European Studies, and the History of Science Department’s Lindberg, Coleman, and Richardson fellowships. She received her B.A. in comparative literature from Smith College in 2004, and worked as a science journalist before receiving a Master’s degree in the history of science from UW-Madison in 2012. She is currently at work on her dissertation entitled “From Regimen to Regime: The Social Meaning of Nutrition, 1840-1910.”