Writing History Is Tough Than You Think

Submitted By Storkos
Words: 1755
Pages: 8

Writing History is Tougher than You Think
Mary Mallon immigrated to New York City in 1884. She contracted a lethal disease which she unintentionally infected others with. Once the health administration realized she was the cause, it resulted in a lifetime of isolation. Mary Mallon’s story is crucial to history for the discovery of healthy carriers however exposed complications between individual rights and public health safety. Author, professor and historian Judith Walzer Leavitt made a rendition of Mary Mallon’s story, Typhoid Mary Captivate to the Public’s Health. Leavitt believes by understanding the contrasting perspectives of Mary Mallon’s story and by looking at the treatment Mary received we can educate ourselves to work out other solutions to analogous health problems. Leavitt’s book is directed to an audience of historian’s doctors, researchers and other academic circles informing them of how we can use her story to the future. Another book was written of Mary Mallon’s story Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical by Author, chef, TV host Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain illustrates the hardships, harassment and injustice Mary Mallon experienced as an immigrant cook and a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Bourdain directs his book towards his fans, historians and other active readers in need of a short story to show being infected with a disease is not a reason to be treated differently neither illicitly. After reading both stories it is easy to say both were enjoyable, however I found Leavitt’s book to be more effective in the retelling of Mary Mallon’s story. Before anything it is important to note there is no comparison between these two books but seeing the shortcomings and effectiveness of each book one can conclude which book was a success and which was not.
Before going into the books, it’s important to understand the author’s life and career in relevance to his and her performance as a historian. Leavitt surrounds herself in the academic world. As the ex Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor of History of Medicine, History of Science, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison it puts her in a high place of merit. Equally a trained historian with study directly within her field of specialization it is expected to see an extremely effective rendition of Mary Mallon’s story. This aspect of Judith Walzer Leavitt can clearly be seen in her work proving how her book is without reading it unknowingly going to be extremely successful (Leavitt xi). Looking at Bourdain it is a different story. Bourdain neither a trained historian, nor a professor at a renowned university but a chef, food critique and comedic host pose not an ineffective rendition but merely a different perspective. Bourdain obviously not as superior towards Leavitt in historian capability but instead he looks to tell the story through the eyes of a cook “And her story, first and foremost, is the story of a cook… her tale has not yet, to my knowledge, been told from that point of view” (Bourdain 4). After reading both books, Leavitt’s book is extremely effective with her advantage as a trained historian in her field, while Bourdain does not achieve the best effect when using his culinary background.
Writing an effective retelling of Mary Mallon’s story needs to balance both sides of the story and not just one. As of only one sided retelling of the story it causes Mary Mallon to be known as Typhoid Mary because of bias. However Judith Walzer Leavitt avoids the use of bias in her work and focuses on proving there is no lone truth, but multiple fabrications. “There is no single truth about her. Instead there are various stories about her and multiple productions of her different meanings” (Judith Walzer Leavitt 231). Leavitt uses this to her advantage in providing the reader with multiple perspectives all on Mary Mallon’s case. In each of her perspective rendition she balances the question of public health and citizen rights. All in which