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When an epidemic strikes, media outlets are central to how an outbreak is framed and understood. While reporters construct stories intended to inform the public and convey essential information from doctors and politicians, news narratives also serve as historical records, capturing sentiments, responses, and fears throughout the course of the epidemic.
Constructing the Outbreak demonstrates how news reporting on epidemics communicates more than just information about pathogens; rather, prejudices, political agendas, religious beliefs, and theories of disease also shape the message. Analyzing seven epidemics spanning more than two hundred years—from Boston's smallpox epidemic and Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemic in the eighteenth century to outbreaks of diphtheria, influenza, and typhoid in the early twentieth century—Katherine A. Foss discusses how shifts in journalism and medicine influenced the coverage, preservation, and fictionalization of different disease outbreaks. Each case study highlights facets of this interplay, delving into topics such as colonization, tourism, war, and politics. Through this investigation into what has been preserved and forgotten in the collective memory of disease, Foss sheds light on current health care debates, like vaccine hesitancy.
About the Author
KATHERINE A. FOSS is professor of journalism and strategic media at Middle Tennessee State University.
"Well-written and engaging, Constructing the Outbreak is a particularly timely study, given the growing challenges to scientific research on vaccine-preventable illnesses."—Robert B. Hackey, author of Cries of Crisis: Rethinking the Health Care Debate
"With meticulous research featuring a wealth of media and archival resources, Katherine A. Foss makes fascinating observations on the connections between these horrific epidemics and the cultures of each era, with a clarity and accessibility that will appeal to both experts and general readers."—Janice Hume, author of Popular Media and the American Revolution: Shaping Collective Memory
"This book raises timely questions for scholars and general audiences alike . . . Constructing the Outbreak is a must-read for the journalism scholar, history buff, public health professional, or truly, anyone who is alive at this moment."—American Journalism
"This timely book suggests that there are common themes in mass media and public discourse during epidemics, such as how disease sometimes reduces people to experiencing primordial fears, values, and beliefs, along with a desire to blame others . . . Recommended."—CHOICE
"Katherine Foss's Constructing the Outbreak underscores the formative influence of media coverage in shaping the collective narratives that make outbreaks legible to the public."—Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences