“Hutchinson effectively combines information and perspectives from multiple fields to escort the reader through the development of American healthcare from its vernacular, home-based beginnings to the formal, highly technical science of today. This wide-ranging book provides useful insights on the continually changing nature of healthcare, medicine, and wellbeing in the United States and worldwide.”—Thomas Crist, Utica College
In this book, Dale Hutchinson traces the history of American healthcare and wellbeing from the colonial era to the present, drawing on evidence from material culture and historical documents to offer insights into the longstanding tension between traditional and institutionalized cures, as well as the emergence of the country’s unique brand of medical consumerism.
Hutchinson outlines three major trends that have influenced the course of American medicine—the convergence of different ancestral traditions, the formalization of the medical industry, and the rise of individual choice. He discusses how health challenges in the emergent nation led to increased numbers of healthcare specialists, and how in turn the developing prestige and lucrative nature of the medical profession caused widespread public distrust. Depicting the Civil War as a turning point in attitudes about health, Hutchinson demonstrates how sanitation and hygiene became important emphases of domestic life in the postbellum period. He also describes subsequent trends in self-care. Throughout, Hutchinson incorporates lessons learned from artifacts such as medical tools and the packaging of tonics, pills, salves, and other curatives.
Looking back on this history from the perspective of the contemporary landscape of healthcare and wellness in the United States, Hutchinson points out that weaknesses in the system that became apparent amid the COVID-19 pandemic were the result of changes that have been unfolding since the founding of the nation. Dale L. Hutchinson, professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Disease and Discrimination: Poverty and Pestilence in Colonial Atlantic America.