Enduring Stigma: Historical Perspectives on Disease Meanings and Their Impact

History of Science and Medicine/History/Public Health Policy/Social Studies/Global Health

Stigmatized diseases and conditions constitute an enormous problem for individuals and groups who are subject to prejudice, discrimination, isolation, and the violation of basic human rights. Not only do the highly stereotyped assumptions, beliefs, and values attached to these diseases inflict multiple harms on those who find themselves in the shadow of stigma; it also has profound effects on access to services, health care and its delivery, as well as health systems and economies, both here in the US and around the globe. Stigma is widely acknowledged as a crucially important cause of fundamental health disparities and broader socio-economic inequalities. Despite concerted efforts to reduce disease stigmas over the last century—and especially in recent decades—they continue to impact patients and remain a major obstacle to medical and public health efforts to improve health. This project explores the history of the social, cultural, and political production of stigma as well as interventions and public policies for its reduction.

Research partners will be deeply involved in researching and analyzing the history and cultural history of highly stigmatized diseases. This will include leprosy, cancer, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, obesity, disability, mental illness, and addiction (among others). Applicants should have strong skills working with primary sources, as well as a facility with digital searching and building research bibliographies.