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The Republic of ColorScience, Perception, and the Making of Modern America$
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Michael Rossi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226651729

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226651866.001.0001

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Pathologies of Perception

Pathologies of Perception

Benjamin Joy Jeffries and the Invention of Color Blindness

Chapter:
(p.85) Chapter Three Pathologies of Perception
Source:
The Republic of Color
Author(s):

Michael Rossi

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226651866.003.0004

While it had been known for centuries that certain individuals appeared insensitive to particular colors, it wasn’t until the 1870s that color blindness was articulated as a common medical condition that required authoritative intervention. This chapter examines the science and politics of the medicalization of color blindness, focusing on the work of Benjamin Joy Jeffries, a Boston ophthalmologist who devoted his career to the diagnosis and control of color blindness. While Jeffries saw color blindness as a major public health risk necessitating strict legislation and medical supervision, others disagreed, insisting that color blindness was simply a matter of individual, subjective apperception. The resulting conflict was as much an argument over medical and scientific authority in modern America and individual rights as it was over color epistemology.

Keywords:   Benjamin Joy Jeffries, color blindness, railroads, medicine, 1893 Columbian Exposition

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