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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

From typhus to tuberculosis and fractures in between: A visceral historical archaeology of Irish immigrant life in New York City 1845–1870
by Linn, Meredith B., Ph.D., Columbia University, 2008, 870; 3333487
Abstract (Summary)

As a result of the Great Famine and social and economic conditions in Ireland, more than two million Irish immigrants arrived in New York City (NYC) between 1845 and 1870. Initially marginalized by Americans, Irish immigrants lived in the poorest housing, worked the most dangerous and strenuous jobs, and disproportionately suffered from illness and injury. This story is well-known, and one in which Irish immigrants have been framed as passive victims, ignorant regarding healthcare. This study in historical archaeology uses three leading causes of Irish immigrant morbidity, "Irish fever" (epidemic typhus fever), work-related injuries, and tuberculosis, as lenses to investigate Irish immigrants' experiences and relationships with native-born Americans in NYC from 1845 to 1870. This study reveals that American popular and medical understandings of bodily appearances, health, and disease shaped American perceptions of the Irish and changed over time, while Irish immigrants actively and creatively treated their ailments and made lasting contributions to American healthcare.

Reading the historical record through these lenses shows Americans' identification of the Irish with typhus fever in the 1840s and 1850s fostered notions of Irish difference and lesser humanity, while romanticized understandings of tuberculosis in the 1860s and 1870s re-humanized the Irish. The bodies of Irish immigrants broken by labor, meanwhile, lay at the center of debates about personhood and the meaning of suffering surrounding the application of anaesthesia to surgery.

Analyzing archaeological evidence from the Five Points (NYC) and Paterson, NJ and case records from NYC hospitals through these lenses and through Irish traditional medical perspectives, moreover, reveals invaluable evidence of Irish medical strategies, both traditional and innovative. Folklore records are vital for establishing Irish traditional medical perspectives, practices, and pharmacopeia, which figure prominently in this study. In treating their ailments at home and negotiating their care in hospitals, Irish immigrants contributed to patent medicine, soda water, cosmetics, and clothing industries and to developing new surgical procedures, improved nursing care, and private hospitals in America. This visceral historical archaeology of 19th -century Irish immigrants highlights their previously unappreciated health-related experiences, struggles, and contributions and provides an example for future studies of other immigrant groups.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rothschild, Nan A.
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 69/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, American history, Forensic anthropology, Modern history
Keywords: Folklore, Illness, Immigration, Injury, Irish, Medicine, New York City
Publication Number: 3333487
ISBN: 978-0-549-85610-8
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