Science at the Borders: Immigrant Medical Inspection and the Shaping of the Modern Industrial Labor Force

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2003-05-01
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In 1891, officers of the United States Public Health Service began examining immigrants at the nation's borders for "loathsome and dangerous contagious diseases." First introduced as a means to screen out those who posed a threat to public health, the examinations were soon described by officials as a way of denying entry to applicants who could not work and would, therefore, be a burden on society. But historian Amy Fairchild has unearthed a curious fact about this ubiquitous rite of immigration--it was rarely undertaken to exclude immigrants. In Science at the Borders, Fairchild retells the immigrant story, offering a new interpretation of the medical exam and the role it played in the lives of the 25 million immigrants who entered the US. She argues that the vast assembly line of flesh and bone served as a kind of initiation into the life of the new working class, one that would introduce men and women from the villages of eastern Europe and elsewhere to the norms and conventions of the factory floor. What the overwhelming majority of immigrants endured at Ellis Island and other entry points to the United States was, according to Fairchild, part of a process of induction into American industrial society. Against this backdrop Fairchild also explores the southern border of the United States and the West Coast where the exam did, in fact, serve to exclude. Throughout, Fairchild conveys the humanity of the story, offering detailed accounts of individual immigrants confronting a large scientific and medical bureaucracy.

Author Biography

Amy Fairchild is an assistant professor and assistant director for academic and scholarly activities at the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health in the department of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. Immigration by the Numbers: Rethinking the Immigrant Medical Experience 1(22)
Part I. Numbers Large: Immigrant Medical Inspection as an Inclusionary Tool
Immigrants and the New Industrial Economy
The Function of Medical Inspection: Restriction, Instruction, and Discipline of the Laboring Body
The Medical Gaze: Science in Industrial-Era America
Part II. Numbers Small: Immigrant Medical Inspection as an Exclusionary Tool
The Shape of the Line: Immigrant Medical Inspection from Coast to Coast
At the Borders of Science: Diagnostic Technology at the Intersection of Race, Class, Disease, and Industrial Citizenship
Drawing the Color Line: Racial Patterns of Medical Certification and Exclusion
Epilogue. The End of the Line: Immigrant Medical Inspection after 1924 253(24)
Appendix. Note on Data Collection, Cleaning, Coding, and Analysis 277(8)
Notes 285(92)
Index 377

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