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Friday, 5 March 2010

Public Health as Art

"Flies Spread Disease" c. 1911. Source.
Sometimes my day job, working for a public health group, and my interest in history come together. I love to look through old public health posters warning of the dangers of syphilis or not brushing your teeth. Not only are they interesting to look at but some are truly works of art.

"At the Gates" c.1895. Source.
The American National Institutes of Health have a good medical history section and have recently teamed up with a couple of other agencies to create an exhibit of historic public health posters called An Iconography of Contagion. A great write up on the exhibit and some background on the use of art in public health campaigns can be found here.

"The Easy Girlfriend" c.1943. Source.
What's interesting is that though we may get a chuckle, or a cringe, from some of the campaigns, some could be rolled out today. Alberta, for instance, has roared it's way to a syphilis rate twice the national average in a period of just a couple of years.

The use of blunt posters to convey a life and death message in the West
is not exactly ancient history. It wasn't long ago that similar ads had to be trucked out for the general population over HIV/ AIDS.

"None of these will give you AIDS" c.1985. Source.
Other on-line galleries of historic public health posters:
Newsweek
Profiles in Science
Avert.org

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