Thursday, 18 April
211 Dickinson Hall
History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
"Straight as an Arrow: How Posture Became a Health Metric in Twentieth-Century America"
In the 1990s, American critics and academics became scandalized by the revelation that just decades earlier, many of the nation’s elite schools took nude photographs of all incoming freshman to assess posture and physical fitness. Some claimed that the photos were a thinly disguised form of pornography, while others argued that it was a vast eugenic experiment run by “pseudo-scientists” with a hidden master-race agenda. This paper will reopen the so-called Nude Posture Photo debate with the intent to offer a deeper historical consideration of the practice, seeking to understand twentieth century posture experts on their own terms. Looking at early attempts to measure and standardize posture (with photography as but one method), “Straight as an Arrow” will demonstrate how a wide array of early-twentieth-century medical and social scientists came to agree upon a uniform posture norm and how they utilized this standard as an indicator of physical health.