How rabid dogs, the struggles to contain them, and their power over the public imagination intersected with New York City's rise to urban preeminence.
Rabies enjoys a fearsome and lurid reputation. Throughout the decades of spiraling growth that defined New York City from the 1840s to the 1910s, the bone-chilling cry of "Mad dog!" possessed the power to upend the ordinary routines and rhythms of urban life. In Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers, Jessica Wang examines the history of this rare but dreaded affliction during a time of rapid urbanization.
Focusing on a transformative era in medicine, politics, and urban society, Wang uses rabies to survey urban social geography, the place of domesticated animals in the nineteenth-century city, and the world of American medicine. Rabies, she demonstrates, provides an ideal vehicle for exploring physicians' ideas about therapeutics, disease pathology, and the body as well as the global flows of knowledge and therapeutics. Beyond the medical realm, the disease also illuminates the cultural fears and political contestations that evolved in lockstep with New York City's burgeoning cityscape.
Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers offers lay readers and specialists alike the opportunity to contemplate a tumultuous domain of people, animals, and disease against a backdrop of urban growth, medical advancement, and social upheaval. The result is a probing history of medicine that details the social world of New York physicians, their ideas about a rare and perplexing disorder, and the struggles of an ever-changing, ever-challenging urban society.
About the author
Jessica Wang is an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of American Science in an Age of Anxiety: Scientists, Anticommunism, and the Cold War.
"Jessica Wang's account of rabies in New York during the years between 1840 and 1920 describes the terror of this disease and the introduction of prophylaxis against it. Wang recognizes that we must understand infectious diseases both as products of biological agents as well as social events shaped by human emotions, experiences, disruptions, and institutional interventions, public and private. She nicely parses concepts of disease-identity as they changed over time, from early-nineteenth-century ideas about poisons to the emergence of germ theory in the final decades of the century."