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Made at the Library: Harvey Washington Wiley, Controversial Crusader for the Pure Foods Movement

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Harvey Wiley standing while sculptor Gutzon Borglum models Wiley's face in clay bust between them.
Undated clipping of Harvey Washington Wiley, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

This guest post is by Manuscript Division reference librarian Lara Szypszak and history of science specialist, Josh Levy. 

Join us for a conversation with author Jonathan Rees about his recent biography of controversial pure food crusader and influential U.S. Department of Agriculture chemist Harvey Washington Wiley, The Chemistry of Fear: Harvey Wiley’s Fight for Pure Food (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021). The book examines Wiley’s many—and varied—clashes over food safety, and reveals that his impact on what Americans ate often depended more upon fear than upon the quality of his research.

Though trained as a medical doctor, Harvey Wiley spent most of his professional life advocating for “pure food”—food free of both adulterants and preservatives. A strong proponent of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, still the basis of food safety legislation in the United States, Wiley’s influence lives on in many of our current popular ideas about food: the wrong food can kill you; the right food can extend your life; additives are unnatural; and unnatural food is unhealthy food. Eating—the process of taking something external in the world and putting it inside of you—has always been an intimate act, but Harvey Wiley turned it into a matter of life or death.

Jonathan Rees is a professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo, and a historian of late-19th and early-20th century America specializing in technology, food and labor. He is the author of eight books, and his writing has been published in The Atlantic, Slate, and Inside Higher Education.

The discussion, moderated by Manuscript Division historian Josh Levy and reference librarian Lara Szypszak, will demonstrate how researchers discover and access relevant materials within the Library’s holdings and draw conclusions and arguments from historical documents. The Manuscript Division is home to the Harvey Washington Wiley Papers, consisting of 70,000 items arranged in 247 boxes. The division also holds the papers of suffragist and consumers’ rights reformer Anna Kelton Wiley, consisting of 110,000 items arranged in 366 boxes.

The event took place online only on Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT. Watch the program here:

Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].

Made at the Library is an event series highlighting works inspired by and emerging from research at the Library of Congress. Featuring authors, artists and other creators in conversation with Library experts, this series takes a deep dive into the process of working with the Library’s collections.

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