Author(s): Braun L
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Abstract Race correction is a common practice in contemporary pulmonary medicine that involves mathematical adjustment of lung capacity measurements in populations designated as "black" using standards derived largely from populations designated as "white." This article traces the history of the racialization and gendering of spirometry through an examination of the ideas and practices related to lung capacity measurements that circulated between Britain and the United States in the nineteenth century. Lung capacity was first conceptualized as a discrete entity of potential use in the diagnosis of pulmonary disease and monitoring of the vitality of the armed forces and other public servants in spirometric studies conducted in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. The spirometer was then imported to the United States and used to measure the capacity of the lungs in a large study of black and white soldiers in the Union Army sponsored by the U.S. Sanitary Commission at the end of the Civil War. Despite contrary findings and contestation by leading black intellectuals, the notion of mean differences between racial groups in the capacity of the lungs became deeply entrenched in the popular and scientific imagination in the nineteenth century, leaving unexamined both the racial categories deployed to organize data and the conditions of life that shape lung function.
This article was published in J Hist Med Allied Sci
and referenced in Journal of Defense Management