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Abstract

This dissertation argues that media practices and communicative technologies in modern hygienic education—and the media objects they are used to create—are assessed for their “hygienic value:” whether and how they function as useful practices for bringing about circumstances conducive to the corporeal thriving of human beings. How such thriving is defined, and how it is connected to information practices, varies based upon the political and institutional discourses in which the media object has been made, the dispositions of those individuals with deciding power over the form and fate of the object, and the particular public health issues that the object is made to address. This dissertation works primarily with the medium of film in the national context of Germany, roughly from the end of the First until the end of the Second World War. The first chapter offers a prehistory of modern hygienic media discourses in the German-speaking context, surveying parallels between information and other essential resources, like clean air and sunlight, in encyclopedic and instructional texts associated with the social hygiene movement and with paraprofessional folk medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second chapter studies the written archives left by three lost films from the 1920s, each of which differently illuminates the relationship between centralized public health administration, the regional and economic heterogeneity of interwar Germany, a rapidly developing set of film practices, and the illnesses and forms of personal health associated with modernization. The third chapter studies how a 1936 film on dental hygiene—an oddity in a period when the public health discourse was being forcibly redirected to serve the eugenic goals of so-called “racial hygiene”—both fused personal hygiene with fascist aesthetics and antagonized the Reich Office for Educational Film by circumventing its distribution and exhibition structures, eventually earning a de facto exhibition ban. The fourth chapter works with two of the first films to be made on German soil after the war—both made by Soviet occupying authorities in the ruins of Berlin in order to spread public health messages about combating diseases associated with primitive postwar living conditions—examining in particular how these films and their associated archival traces document the ways in which postwar imperatives of infrastructural rebuilding and salvage also applied to human bodies. Across these studies, successive governmental and professional bodies—of hygiene educators and policymakers in the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, and one post-World-War-II occupational administration—negotiated whether and how the relatively new and costly medium was to be implemented to serve the political and administrative goals those governments understood as addressing public health.

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