Acclaimed historian to deliver 2017 Brose lectures

October 20, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stephen Berry, Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era at the University of Georgia, will deliver three lectures on "The Death Investigators: Coroners, Quants, and the Birth of Death as We Know It," for the 2017 Steven and Janice Brose Distinguished Lecture Series. Taking place on Nov. 2, 3 and 4 in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, the lectures are free and open to the public.

This lecture series is sponsored by the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State through the generosity of an endowment by Steven and Janice Brose.

For thousands of years, stretching back to the origins of humankind, human life expectancy hovered below the age of 30. In the West, after a brief dip in the early 19th century, it rocketed upward, with the sharpest gains in the United States coming between 1880 and 1920. The story of this sudden rise is typically told as a series of medical breakthroughs, such as advancements in vaccination.

Berry, however, adds to this story the triumph of bureaucracy: John Adams created the Public Health Service (a series of naval quarantine facilities) in 1798; the Massachusetts state legislature authorized Lemuel Shattuck’s “sanitary survey of the state” in 1849; the Bureau of Vital Statistics established a national death certification system in 1900. Between 1840 and 1920 the government worked tirelessly on behalf of Americans to save their children and to double the length of their lives.

The schedule is as follows:

— 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2:  "From Coroner to Medical Examiner"

— 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3: "From Mortality Census to Death Certificate"

— 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: "From Burial Clubs to For-Profit Insurance"

Stephen Berry is secretary-treasurer of the Southern Historical Association and founder and co-director of the Center for Virtual History. The author or editor of six books on America in the Civil War Era (including "House of Abraham: Lincoln & the Todds, A Family Divided by War"), Berry also created and maintains CSI:Dixie, a web project devoted to the coroners' offices in the 19th-century South. His work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others.

For more information, contact the Richards Center at 814-863-0151 or visit the website at

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Last Updated November 06, 2017