“The Air We Breathe”: Nineteenth-Century Americans and the Search for Fresh Air


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation assesses the role of sensory experience in late nineteenth-century environmental movements by comparing the efforts of chemists, doctors, engineers, politicians, and lay people to eradicate industrial odors in Chicago, New York, and Boston. Using government documents, chemists’ reports, personal files, and periodicals, this cultural history of “fresh air” recreates the common sense of the nineteenth century, when people believed that invisible miasmas governed their bodies. This project argues that the belief that bad odors were bad for health, combined with the pervasiveness of stenches from slaughterhouses, fertilizer factories, fat renderers, and oil refineries, produced a widespread conviction in the right to breathe fresh air and a complicated search for ways to ensure that right.