Meghan Crnic, University of Pennsylvania

Technologies of Nature: How UV Lamps Brought Nature to the City

Nature vs. Technology; City vs. Country: what one is, the other is not. Historians have used such dualisms to explore the environments and conditions in which people have lived, worked, and produced knowledge. This study collapses such categories.

Using UV lamps as a lens, I examine how physicians sought to capture and control nature within machines. Beginning with an exploration of the scientific knowledge and therapeutic practices that underpinned the development of UV lamps, I argue that medical professionals viewed devices as a way of encapsulating the healthy nature of non-urban environments, including sunlight and fresh air. Using medical, scientific, and newspaper articles, hospital reports, and children’s health textbooks, this paper examines how American physicians developed UV lamps to mimic the sun’s therapeutic potential in order to provide patients with access to “nature” within urban settings. Building on the work of historians Conevery Bolton Valencius, Gregg Mitman, Peter Thorsheim, and Joel Howell, my examination reveals that rather representing a departure from natural therapeutics, “technologies of nature” like the UV lamp embodied and continue to project a belief in the healing power of the environment.