How and when did doctors become respected professionals in American society?
The answer lies in early Americans’ fascination with delirium tremens, or alcoholic insanity, and the Temperance Movement of the early-to-mid 19th century.
Today, Matthew Osborn, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of Rum Maniacs: Alcoholic Insanity in the Early American Republic, leads us on an exploration of early American medical history and reform movements.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with an historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
In this episode, Matthew Osborn, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of Rum Maniacs: Alcoholic Insanity in the Early American Republic, leads us on an exploration of early American reform movements and medical history.
During our conversation, Matthew reveals what delirium tremens are; Why early Americans became fascinated with delirium tremens and excessive drinking during the 1820s; And information about the Temperance Movement and how doctors used the movement to elevate their social and professional status in American society.
What You’ll Discover
- The professionalization of the medical profession over the early republic
- Definition of delirium tremens
- How Matthew came to study alcoholic insanity during the early republic
- Why early Americans became fascinated with heavy alcohol consumption
- Why early Americans drank a lot of alcohol
- Information about Benjamin Rush and his interest in temperance
- How society came to perceive heavy alcoholic drinking as a societal problem
- How and why doctors raised elite issues
- What the early American economy looked like in the 1810s and 1820s
- Connections between heavy drinking and the economic problems of the 1810s and 1820s
- How alcohol consumption became a way to ascribe personal responsibility for the condition of poverty
- Matthias Baldwin and his quest to end poverty through temperance
- Whether African Americans or women who lived in the early republic suffered from delirium tremens and excessive drinking
- Problems with statistics on early Americans who suffered or died from delirium tremens
- The Temperance Movement, ca. 1783-1840s
- Whether the 19th-century Temperance Movement had success in limiting alcohol consumption
- How doctors used the Temperance Movement to curb the practice of unorthodox medical treatments
- How early Americans made delirium tremens a topic of entertainment
- How Walt Disney’s Dumbo made entertainment out of delirium tremens
- Whether the desire for delirium tremens as entertainment drove anyone to drink to produce entertainment
- Edgar Allan Poe and delirium tremens
- How delirium tremens and 19th-century depictions of the disease have shaped 21st-century perceptions of alcoholism
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Matthew W. Osborn
- Matthew’s University of Missouri-Kansas City webpage
- Twitter: @UMKCHistoryProf
- Rum Maniacs: Alcoholic Insanity in the Early American Republic
- William Rourabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition
- Karen Haltunnen, Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination
- Episode 020 Kyle Bulthuis, Four Steeples Over the City Streets
- Episode 030 Shelby Balik, Rally the Scattered Believers
- Matthew's interview with The Kansas City Star
In your opinion what might have happened if doctors had not taken such an interest in delirium tremens in the early 19th century? Would early Americans have taken a strong interest in the disease and its symptoms? If not, how would our modern-day understandings of alcoholism be different?
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