Since the late nineteenth century, the public and medical communities have demonstrated remarkable changes in how they answer the question of who is considered most at risk for diabetes, and why. Traditionally diabetes was believed to burden white, middle-class, and especially Jewish people disproportionately. After World War II, however, American Indians, African Americans, and Mexican Americans gradually came to be labeled most at risk for developing the disease. This lecture will argue that such claims have reflected and perpetuated troubling assumptions about race, ethnicity, and class, as diabetes has undergone a transformation in the public’s eye from being a disease of wealth and “civilization” to one of poverty and “primitive” populations. Ultimately, the talk will demonstrate in a powerful way how racial stereotypes become entrenched in the biomedical literature, with dire consequences for those who are struggling to manage this disease.
Arleen Tuchman is a specialist in the history of medicine in the United States and Europe, with research interests in the cultural history of health, disease, and addiction; the rise of scientific medicine; and scientific and medical constructions of gender and sexuality. She is the author of three books, the most recent being Diabetes: A History of Race and Disease (Yale University Press, 2020), which has won the 2021 PROSE Book Award in History of Science, Medicine, and Technology from the Association of American Publishers, and the 2022 George Rosen Prize in the history of public health/social medicine from the American Association for the History of Medicine. She is currently working on a history of addiction and the family in the United States. Tuchman is a past director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society (2006-2009) and has, since 2019, been the co-creator of a historic medicinal garden on Vanderbilt University’s campus.