David Barnes
University of Pennsylvania


I teach the history of medicine and public health in the Department of History & Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  I went to graduate school at U.C. Berkeley in the mid-1980s to study French history, social history, and urban history.  Those interests eventually led me to a dissertation on tuberculosis as a social and political problem in 19th-century France.  Through this work, my interests evolved in the direction of the history of medicine and public health, as well as the cultural history of bodily knowledge and bodily practices more generally.   

After my Ph.D., I completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in History of Health Sciences at U.C. San Francisco, then taught for a year at Emory’s Institute for Liberal Arts and for seven years in the History of Science Department at Harvard.  At Penn,  I am director of the interdisciplinary Health & Societies major, and I also teach in the MPH program.

My first book, The Making of a Social Disease: Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century France (University of California Press, 1995), explores the social transformations and anxieties which colored and constrained responses to the industrializing world's leading killer. My second book, The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle against Filth and Germs (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), investigates how scientific developments, political imperatives, and shifting cultural mores combined to reshape perceptions of health, disease, and bodily substances during the Bacteriological Revolution.

I am currently writing a history of the Lazaretto quarantine station (1801-1895) on the Delaware River outside Philadelphia—the oldest surviving quarantine station in the Western Hemisphere (and the sixth oldest in the world).  I am also involved in the campaign to restore and preserve this unparalleled historic site.

Other ongoing research projects include the politics of international disease control programs in the twentieth century (does trying to eradicate a single disease benefit the health of a population?) and the history of disgust.

B.A., History, Yale University, 1984

M.A., History, U.C. Berkeley, 1987

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley, 1992

About Me