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2010 MARCH–APRIL No. 373
March 08, 2010 [posted]

"An Iconography of Contagion" Now Online

[Editor's Note: This is a reprint of an announcement published on the NLM Web site on February 26, 2010. To be notified of announcements like this, subscribe to NLM-Announces e-mail list.]

Based on Popular Exhibition, Site Showcases 20th-century Public Health Posters

An Iconography of Contagion: A Web Exhibition of 20th-century Health Posters has been launched in a new online version on the National Library of Medicine® (NLM) Web site. NLM is the world's largest medical library and an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

The site, which is adapted from the exhibition of the same name, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, features more than 20 health posters from the 1920s to the 1990s, from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Using images that are by turns beautiful, humorous, jarring and unexpected, they cover infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis. In pictures, text and captions, An Iconography of Contagion shows the interplay between medical science, politics, public understanding of disease, war, and cultural values and prejudices. It was curated by medical historian Michael Sappol in the NLM History of Medicine Division.

Public health took a visual turn about 100 years ago. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public and government action through eye-catching posters, pamphlets and motion pictures. Impressed by the images of mass media that increasingly saturated the world around them, health campaigners were inspired to present new figures of contagion, and recycle old ones, using modernist aesthetics, graphic manipulations, humor, dramatic lighting, painterly abstraction, distortions of perspective and other visual strategies. They devised a new iconography of contagion that emphasized visual legibility and the pleasure of the view.

Meanwhile, Iconography of Contagion, the physical exhibition, is on tour through the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. For booking information, please contact Alana Quinn at and 202.334.2415.

Exhibition Touring Schedule

September 28, 2009 - January 29, 2010
Global Health Odyssey Museum
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA

February 15, 2010 - May 28, 2010
Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

For print-quality images, contact Melanie Modlin in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and 301.496.7771.

"An Iconography of Contagion" Now Online. NLM Tech Bull. 2010 Mar-Apr;(373):e1.

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