What Illness Looks Like

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Thanks to a small band of advocates, the fields of medical and public-health history have been paying increasing attention to the visual – to the vast assortment of still and moving images that illustrate and in many cases constitute those histories. In a new book, Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (University of Minnesota Press), editor David Serlin gathers contributions about many compelling areas of the latest research on the visual history of illness.

Among manifestations of the increased interest was last year’s popular and well-attended Medical Film Symposium in Philadelphia.

As David Serlin, an associate professor of communication and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, relates here, the collection’s essayists consider the visual culture of public health from seventeenth-century London broadsides about the handling of plague victims’ bodies to YouTube videos about preventing the transmission of STDs. Contributors examine such historical and contemporary visual practices as Chinese health fairs, documentary films produced by the World Health Organization, illness maps, fashions for nurses, and live surgery on the Internet....

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