American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



For most of Western history, tuberculosis was an incurable disease--its victims, destined to die. However, in late-19th century Philadelphia, changes in science, public health, and medical charity contributed to a remaking of the disease. Through the experiments of the bacteriological laboratory, and the commitment of governmental and private resources to tuberculosis treatment, scientists and physicians would come to tout the disease's curability. By the beginning of the 20th century, the disease was transformed into a curable entity caused, not by an uncontrollable force of nature, but by an ostensibly containable microbe, the tubercle bacillus. This dissertation argues that this transformation was produced by and productive of a new form of liberal individualism. The emergent subject of tuberculosis was no longer a victim of physiological fate. Rather, the tubercular were increasingly constituted as capable of willing themselves better through participation in hygienic regimens. By focusing on the physician Lawrence Flick and the Philadelphia anti-tuberculosis movement, this dissertation explores the various spheres and spaces through which this new tubercular subject takes shape. These include discourses and practices of self-care--cultivating immunity and disinfecting personal pathological material the political-economic evaluation of the sick poor in almshouses the surveillance and disciplining of the tubercular in sanataria and efforts to reform the urban population into tools of tuberculosis prevention. Where liberal individuals, prior to the 1890s, were constituted in political economic thought and practice as possessing a willpower--and a responsibility--to be productive and independent, this dissertation traces the emergence, in Philadelphia, of a new type of liberal individual: the tubercular emerge as subjects with the purported willpower to cultivate immunity by wittingly changing the quality of their bodies--of their internal tissue. By arguing that the willpower of tubercular individuals is, itself, a product of the erasure of the "willpower" or "vitality" of tuberculosis, this dissertation contributes to a body of scholarship on the relationship between the human and non-human--scholarship that challenges the presumption, central to the humanities and social sciences, that humans are the most important, if not the only relevant historical actors.




tuberculosis, individuals, liberalism, liberal, individualism, human, nonhuman, non-human, Philadelphia, will, willpower, charity, bacteriology, Lawrence, Flick, The, Henry

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alyosha Goldstein

Second Committee Member

Jake Kosek

Third Committee Member

Vera Norwood

Fourth Committee Member

Jason Scott Smith