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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Public health and occupational health

CHSTM 031-closet-(2)
Public health movements have promoted the uptake of new sanitation technologies, such as the flush toilet, in private and public spaces.  Reproduced from the Medical Annual and Practitioner's Index, Bristol: John Wright 1894

The antecedents of public health date from the early modern period and from eighteenth-century efforts to institute 'medical police'. As a field of medical and administrative activity, public and occupational health emerged in the nineteenth century, largely in response to the sociomedical problems of newly industrial workplaces, towns and cities. While industrial cities caused health problems which transcended the barriers between home, city and workplace environments, industrial health services developed independently from public health provisions. 

The most explosive growth in public health institutions and powers came in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but both the scale and profile of public health work has declined since then, at least in the developed world.

Because public health theory and practice has been closely linked with social reform and environmental management, its proponents have been concerned with the uses of power, resources, and expertise. Historians who study public and occupational health consider how science, reform, and politics have interacted, and how everyday women, men and children have engaged with the policies and practices encouraged by health experts. Such studies tell us not only about the creation of institutions concerned with health at the community and population level, but also about the mix of ideas, encounters, and experiences that constituted the public's reaction to expert intervention.

Several CHSTM staff work in the history of public and occupational health, with a particular focus on modern Britain and the United States. Michael Brown has considered how nineteenth-century sanitarianism was shaped by theological and socio-cultural factors. Vladmir Jankovic works on the medical history of British indoors and outdoors. Elizabeth Toon has studied experts' use of popular education and new media as a public health tool, especially in the US and Canada. Michael Worboys has explored the debates and practices surrounding new ideas about disease causation in late-Victorian Britain and its colonies. He has also worked on popular understandings of public health. Flurin Condrau has worked extensively on TB and also on occupational health, in Germany and Britain. Vicky Long has explored the politics of industrial health and attempts to transform factories into sites of health production in twentieth-century Britain.

Emma Jones, Neil Pemberton and John Pickstone have worked recently with local authorities in Manchester on policy relevant contemporary history. With Stephanie Snow and Flurin Condrau, and with colleagues in health policy, they are increasingly involved with the development of public health studies at the University.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Vicky Long and Hilary Marland. 'From danger and motherhood to health and beauty: health advice for the factory girl in early twentieth-century Britain', forthcoming in Twentieth-Century British History.

Michael Brown. 'From foetid air to filth: the cultural transformation of British epidemiological thought, c. 1780-1848', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 2008, 82(3).

Emma L Jones and John V Pickstone. The quest for public health in Manchester: the industrial city, the NHS and the recent history. Carnegie, 2008.

Elizabeth Toon. "'Cancer as the general population knows it': knowledge, fear, and lay education in 1950s Britain". Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 2007, 81(1): 116-138.

Vladimir Jankovic. "Atmospheric exposures and bodily constitutions: a taxonomy of issues in medical meteorology, 1770-1850". In Cohen, Jankovic and Fleming, eds, Intimate Universality. Cambridge: Science History Publications 2006.

Vladimir Jankovic. "The last resort: a British perspective on the medical Mediterranean, 1815-1870", Journal for Intercultural Studies, 2005, 26(4).

Michael Worboys, Sanjoy Bhattacharya and Mark Harrison. Fractured States: Smallpox, Public Health and Vaccination Policy in British India, 1800-1947. London: Sangam 2005.

Elizabeth Toon. "Teaching children about health" in Janet Golden, Richard A Meckel and Heather Munro Prescott, eds, Children and Youth in Sickness and in Health. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004, 85-106.

Vladimir Jankovic. Reading the Skies: A Cultural History of English Weather, 1650-1820. University of Chicago Press / Manchester University Press, 2000.

Michael Worboys. Spreading germs: disease theories and medical practice in Britain, 1865-1900. Cambridge University Press 2000.

Michael Worboys and Michael Sigsworth. "The public's view of public health in mid-Victorian Britain", Urban History, 1994, 21:237-50.

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