Ideas about purity appeared with exceptional force in the United States as scientific and public health movements emphasized pure water, milk, and food to fight disease. This award will support the second stage of a research project on the "drive for purity" in late nineteenth and early twentieth century American culture. The first stage examined the development of the cultural value of purity in ideas about breeding, including agricultural and human, or eugenic, realms. In the second stage, the public health origins of the movement are examined with a focus on growing attention to nature and environment, and agricultural breeding elements. After completing the second stage with support of the grant, the researcher will seek other support to embark on the third stage of the project, a study of the development of purity in religion through Christian fundamentalism, the social purity movement aimed at containing human sexuality, and mass culture. These three stages of research will culminate in a scholarly book tentatively titled "The Drive for Purity: The Emergence of an American Icon."
Research for the second part of the project will involve visits to repositories of unpublished government documents and correspondence at the National Archives; Library of Congress; state historical societies in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Colorado; and university special collections at Yale University and the University of Wisconsin. The researcher will also access digitized special collections and published primary source documents. She has examined the literature and selected sites and sources that will contribute to a better understanding of the development of the cultural value of purity and its use in public health, environmental, and agricultural movements. The research will reveal the growth, development, and modern scientific manifestation of purity as an extraordinarily powerful scientific idea in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.
The reinterpretation offered by this project, especially through its focus on scientific elements of the "drive for purity," will reveal a new way to look at science, society, and religion. Although its roots sink deeply into scientific norms they spread into cultural areas including religion, and particularly Christian fundamentalism. The reinterpretation may have implications for understanding of the Cold War, immigration policies, the emergence of the Christian right and its relationship to mainstream science, and of the biotechnical revolution. It will have an impact on students from primary school to college who will learn more about the research process while gaining insights into the linkages between science and society past and present. To facilitate that impact, the research will develop research training and learning materials, including new seminar courses, that will be available to students from primary school to college, including underrepresented groups, and will publicize and disseminate the research through presentations, lectures, museums, and media contacts.