Introduction: About this Project

Introduction: About this Project

Through the beginning of the 20th century, healthcare as an institution was poorly developed in the United States, and its government was only beginning to  assume public responsibility for the health of its citizens. Throughout the century growing knowledge in terms of science, disease spread, and disease control contributed to a growing public responsibility to manage contagion (Health). It was only until the period following World War II did healthcare rise to become a major U.S. institution. This was evidenced with public authorities taking over processes of sanitation and health education (Chave). World War II presented a turn in the conception of health in the American mentality. Taking a more substantial priority in the American mindset after the war, personal health management became a central and growing concern (Health). With the rise of healthcare as a societal priority, came considerations for communication. (Thomas)

Navigation: Select a tab on the right hand toolbar for an in-depth look at specific themes within the video collection

Along with evolution in communication methods and technologies, methods including media film, pamphlets, posters and radio contributed to the dissemination of effective messaging to a wide range of audiences.  However, public health messaging is not immune to rhetorical effort to establish an ideological consensus under the guise of scientific objectivism and patriotism. These resources were no strangers to sexism, casual racism, and promoting the fear of disease of non-Western origin.The films represent the global biopolitics prevalent at the time disease is closely identified with with the Asiatic East; the conquest of disease is identified with Europe and America– without at all paying heed to the historical impact of colonialism in spreading disease. Ultimately, resources risk becoming a state-sanctioned vehicle to spread harmful beliefs and ideologies. 

Malaria education campaign featuring “Ann O. Pheles” a personified female Anopheles mosquito depicted in the “Criminal at Large” film. U. S. GPO, 1944.

“Natives” depicted in the “Use Your Head” who are supposed to be of the jungle but use exaggerated, stereotyped “African-American” speech.

The “Public Health Film Goes to War” video archive, presented via the National Library of Medicine, showcases eighteen films distributed by the federal government in order to address public health concerns of the time, which included preventing spread of malaria, dengue, venereal disease and videos catered towards addressing personal health care and hygiene among those in the armed forces.

Transcripts from each film were downloaded as .txt files and using textual analysis tools, Voyant, dataBasic, and ShelfWatch software, were assessed to showcase evidence of different types of communication methods and bias in public health messaging. 

Resulting from this research, textual analysis tools were able to reveal ways in which films spoke differently to men and women, particularly command phrases were used in addressing women, and health advice involved more positive framing techniques. Texts were also analyzed for how filmmakers treated the foreign other and showed differences between how Western and non-Western countries were addressed. 

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