Article ID: CBB000774476

Lies, Damn Lies, and Manchester's Recruiting Statistics: Degeneration as an “Urban Legend” in Victorian and Edwardian Britain (2008)


Few historians have attempted to discuss British medicine, health and welfare policies, or the biological sciences around 1900 without due reference to the concept of degeneration. Most tie public concern with degeneration to a specific set of military recruiting figures, which stated that of 11,000 would-be volunteers in Manchester, 8,000 had to be turned away due to physical defects. Further, most histories point out that these figures had a direct influence on the formation of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration in 1904. With its absolute denial of hereditary decline, the 1904 Report acts as a dénouement of degenerationist fears in Britain. No historian has sought to contextualize these recruiting figures: Where did they come from? How did Manchester react? What role did that city play in the subsequent 1904 Report? Far from being the epitome of urban decay, the 1904 Report repeatedly hails Manchester as a glowing example of innovative urban reform. This article contextualizes the recruiting figures and explores how Manchester had been tackling the three key problems of Physical Deterioration---diet, exercise, and alcohol---for thirty years prior to the 1904 Report. By discussing Manchester, a new understanding of degeneration is outlined; as slogan, rhetorical tool, and urban legend, degeneration was largely feminized and domesticated. Military/masculine problems such as the recruiting figures were the exception, not the rule.

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Authors & Contributors
Perry, M.
Mosley, Stephen
Hills, Richard Leslie
Cardwell, Donald Stephen Lowell
Platt, Harold L.
Quinlan, Sean M.
Social History of Medicine
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Victorian Literature and Culture
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Archives of Natural History
White Horse Press
Ashgate Publishing
University of Chicago Press
Protea Book House
London Metropolitan University (United Kingdom
Public health
Medicine and the military; medicine in war
Medicine and society
Joseph Sidebotham
Porter, Roy
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
Great Britain
Manchester (England)
United States
Chicago (Illinois, U.S.)
National Health Service (Great Britain)
International Red Cross
British Association for the Advancement of Science

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