Nancy Tomes, 1999–2000; 2022–23 | National Humanities Center

Nancy Tomes (NHC Fellow, 1999–00; 2022–23)

Project Title, 2022–23

A History of the Modern Infodemic

Stony Brook University

Project Title, 1999–00

Making the Modern Health Consumer

Stony Brook University

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Fellowship Work Summary, 2022–23

Nancy Tomes drafted 40,000 words of a short book titled Panic Nation: A Viral History. She refocused her original project idea—the history of the concept of an “infodemic”—to look more closely at the related concepts of fear and panic, and how the need to avert them has shaped both public health messaging and its media amplification. During the fellowship year, she read widely in unfamiliar disciplines (neuroscience, risk communication, social psychology, information science) and explored unfamiliar modes of presentation (graphic nonfiction, data visualization) to broaden her approach to the topic. A paper drawn from the new project, “White Evangelicals and COVID-19 Vaccination: Beware the Temptation of the Easy Scapegoat?” is forthcoming in Fides et Historia, late 2023. Another paper edited and proofread while at the NHC is “Re-Imagining the Virus: Virology and Society in the Post-WW2 Period,” Special Issue on Critical Perspectives on Science, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 47:4 (May 2023), 1–15.

Fellowship Work Summary, 1999–00

Nancy Tomes drafted the introduction and six chapters of her book, Making the Modern Health Consumer. She wrote a number of articles including: “The Making of a Germ Panic, Then and Now,” which appeared in American Journal of Public Health 90 (February 2000); “Making the Modern Health Consumer,” and “Beyond the ‘Two Psychiatries’: Jack Pressman’s Last Resort and the History of Twentieth-Century American Psychiatry,” both for the Bulletin of the History of Medicine; “We Die Differently Now: Popular Perceptions of the Mortality Transition in the Interwar United States,” commissioned for the Milbank Memorial Fund centennial volume, Health in America: The Past One Hundred Years, edited by Judith Sealander and Daniel M. Fox; “Dread Disease As Cultural Commodity,” scheduled to appear in Encountering Microbes, a special issue of American Literary History, which she is co-editing; “The United States of Good Health: Medicine and Health Care in Twentieth-Century America,” commissioned by the Journal of American History; and “Madison Avenue Medicine” for the Center’s journal, Ideas 7, no. 1 (2000).