Assistant Professor, Department of History, Northwest Missouri State University
2022 to 2023
Nature and Nurture: Endemic Goiter, Geography, and Heredity in American Medicine, 1800-1930
Endemic goiter – a swelling of the thyroid gland caused by iodine deficiency – has received little attention from historians of medicine. This is despite the fact that goiter has been and remains a common ailment in many populations and considerable historical attention was paid to endemic goiter by medical and lay audiences from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Rather than an unremarkable disease, this project argues that endemic goiter provides an important window into changing ideas about disease etiology and concepts of heredity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Goiter’s identification as a disease of place in the eighteenth century persisted and adapted to new concepts including genetics and nutrient deficiency complicating our assumptions about the end of Hippocratic thinking in the late nineteenth century. Its history closely intersects with the emergence of specific therapeutics, medical geography, deficiency diseases, and genetics and brings them together.