With the paradigm shift in museums and the awareness that museums are far more accountable to their communities, increased pressure arises to provide social commentaries through interpretation. A significant issue in American history has been the history of disease, especially tuberculosis. Today, there still exists a stigma surrounding those that are infected with the disease. According to Katherine Ott, author of Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture since 1870, this is bred out of the turn of the 20th century view that the disease was based on racial “biology”, not social issues such as poverty, nutrition and shelter. The perception of tuberculosis was also bred out of a lacking historical record that claimed that slavery provided an example of better health for the black population; when in fact slave owners often did not report disease among slaves. Tuberculosis became a justification for segregation and even created a desire amongst white society to force African Americans into paid agricultural work only. White society wanted minorities, specifically blacks, to be removed from industrial society. In the 1990s when her book was published, Ott claimed, “Americans are far more scared of tuberculosis than pneumonia even though pneumonia is far more deadly.” Perceptions of the disease are still ingrained in society and these perceptions have even influenced how we respond to new issues, such as HIV/AIDS. How, as museum professionals, can we use our platform as a public forum to encourage our community to discuss various stigmatic populations or issues, in order to break down these stigmas and find the root of our social issues?
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