The Archaeology of American Medicine and Healthcare

Meredith Reifschneider

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Available for pre-order. This book will be available February, 2025

Examining the dynamic histories of medical practice in the United States through the lens of historical archaeology  
“A bold and dynamic interpretation of the social archaeology of healthcare and medicinal access over time and space.”—Stephen A. Brighton, author of Historical Archaeology of the Irish Diaspora: A Transnational Approach
“Demonstrates how archaeological research is relevant for critically evaluating modern systems of medicine and healthcare. The case studies illustrate how medical systems as well as social categories of disease and health are historically and politically situated and how alternative medical practices have long been a robust part of Americans’ lives.”—Kristen R. Fellows, coeditor of Historical Sex Work: New Contributions from History and Archaeology  
In this book, Meredith Reifschneider synthesizes archaeological research on healthcare and medicine to show how practices in the United States have evolved since the nineteenth century. Tracing the areas of medical science and healthcare professionalization, alternative medicine, healthcare consumerism, and public health reform, Reifschneider shows how historical archaeology—which draws on information from the material record, archival sources, historical documents, and ethnographic research—can provide important insights into healthcare and modes of self-care in the past.
Reifschneider analyzes archaeological evidence uncovered from sites such as house deposits, middens, latrines, and hospital waste pits that demonstrates how official healthcare policies were implemented in daily life, revealing a diversity of therapeutic practices connected to social identities. The book includes a case study of the US Army’s hygiene and healthcare practices at the Presidio of San Francisco, showing how soldiers engaged in practices mandated by the government while also using alternative therapies for self-care.
Throughout the book, Reifschneider highlights structural health inequalities in the past and how the effects of previous exclusionary policies continue to manifest in the present day. By examining healthcare and medicine through the lens of archaeology, this book demonstrates the dynamic and often unexpected histories of medical practice, pointing to the ways Americans’ experiences today reflect these historical dynamics.  
Meredith Reifschneider is associate professor of anthropology at San Francisco State University.  
A volume in the series the American Experience in Archaeological Perspective, edited by Michael S. Nassaney and Krysta Ryzewski

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