No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880

By Allan M. Brandt | Go to book overview

Preface

Thorns on the rose. The dark side of love. The risk of passion. Venereal diseases typically have been portrayed in such ways as these in the last hundred years. Sexually transmitted diseases are, indeed, a potential hazard of sexual intimacy, a persistent, troublesome, sometimes tragic irony of our time. This book is devoted to tracing the historical record of this distinctive set of infectious diseases from the late nineteenth century to the current epidemics of herpes and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). It is my hope that an understanding of the past may help to inform our assessment of these contemporary health problems. We need to understand these diseases as social phenomena as much as we need to know more about them from a scientific stand- point. Only when we recognize that diseases have a history -- that they are more than discrete biological entities -- and that their causes are complex and varied, will we be able to address them effectively and humanely.

I have incurred more than the typical number of debts over the years that I have worked on this book. Without the unfailing kindness of my family, friends, and colleagues this study would never have appeared. Financial support from Columbia University, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, the Rockefeller Archives Center, and Harvard University greatly eased the material burdens of this project.

Although for many years venereal diseases have been subject to secrecy and taboo, there is nevertheless a wealth of historical materials. I have been fortunate to work in a number of libraries and archives that preserved the substantive materials for this book. The Social Welfare History Archives Center of the University of Minnesota provided invaluable assistance. David Klaassen's historical and archival skills make this archive one of the finest to work in. Randy Wallach and William Wallach also provided generous assistance and guidance through these materials. The staffs of the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Centers for Disease Control, the Rockefeller Archives Center, the

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