Stress and the American Vernacular: Popular Perceptions of Disease Causality

Event date: 
March 4, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Elizabeth Siegel Watkins
Seminar Series: 
History of Science Colloquium

This talk investigates when, how, and why stress entered the American vernacular. Exploring notions of stress as articulated in newspaper and popular magazine articles during the second half of the twentieth century, I focus on the flows of knowledge between specialist and non-specialist domains in the production and interpretation of the stress concept of disease, as physicians, scientists, journalists, and the lay public drew connections between the social, the psychic, and the somatic. I argue that preexisting notions of mind-body relationships and disease causality in the context of contemporary cultural paradigms provided the frame for how stress was portrayed in popular periodicals and how it became part of common parlance. Shaped by both professional discourse and everyday language, stress followed in the footsteps of its predecessors -- nerves and tension -- and became an accepted, if imperfectly understood, component of the matrix within which illness could develop.

Area of Interest: 
Medicine & Health