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Cows, Cattle Owners, and the USDA: Brucellosis, Populations, and Public Health Policy in Twentieth Century United States


This dissertation explores the conceptualization of brucellosis as a disease and the development of the state-federal brucellosis eradication program. It examines what economic, political, societal, cultural, agricultural, occupational, medical, scientific, and technological factors influenced development of eradication procedures for brucellosis in the United States and which groups of people impacted brucellosis policy. It draws on many different sources including government and organizational records and publications, legal documents, educational material, and trade, scientific, and popular publications. The dissertation serves as a lens to explore the historic relationship between animal and public health, science, agricultural practices, societal norms, and political forces by drawing together research and concepts from history of medicine, public health, science and technology studies, agricultural history, and American political history.

Many different stake-holders influenced the understanding of brucellosis as a disease in both animals and humans and eradication policy. Dairy producers, range cattle owners, veterinarians, state and federal animal health officials, researchers in both animal and human health, consumers, and politicians all played a role in the conceptualization of the disease and its eradication policy. Within each of these groups, different factions held various viewpoints on the epidemiology of the disease, the need for brucellosis eradication, and the role of the government in eradication. These positions often evolved based on economic interests, environment and geography, agricultural practices, and interpretation of scientific data. In addition to different groups and organizations, the biology of the bacterium and its transmission between animals and species shaped the understanding of the disease and the attempts to control or eradicate it. This dissertation also explores the relationship between animal and human medicine and how the groups involved with brucellosis eradication policy negotiated issues of human health and animal health. The dissertation focuses on how contagious abortion and undulant fever, two seemingly unrelated diseases in two different populations, cattle and humans, became one disease, brucellosis, and under what circumstances the state-federal plan to end the disease in the United States developed and evolved during the twentieth century.

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