Book on Start of U.S. Food Safety Programs Wins Award for Outstanding Social History

UC Davis economics research professor Alan Olmstead and alumnus Paul Rhode

Alan Olmstead, a UC Davis economics faculty member, and Paul Rhode, a UC Davis alumus on the faculty at University of Michigan, won an award from the Social Science History Association for their book, Arresting Contagion.

Dec. 1, 2016 —Government efforts to combat livestock disease in the late 19th-century U.S. proved to be a winner for human health around the world, according to a book co-authored by Alan Olmstead, distinguished research professor of economics at UC Davis.

Arresting Contagion: Science, Policy and Conflicts Over Animal Disease Control recently became a winner too. The book, written with Paul Rhode (B.A., economics, ’82), received the 2016 Allan Sharlin Memorial Award from the international Social Science History Association.

"A Magisterial Work"

The award committee called Arresting Contagion a “magisterial work of social science history.” The book combines economic theory with political, social and environmental history and the medical sciences to demonstrate how intervention by the federal Bureau of Animal Industry benefitted the public good — creating the foundation for food safety programs and public health policy today.

book cover with a pattern of silhouetted cows, some splattered by spots

“While individuals, industries, states and localities might have strong economic reason to favor little regulation, communicable diseases and pathogens injurious to animals and humans were indifferent to these justifications and to jurisdictional boundaries,” according to the award committee chaired by Brian Gratton, a historian at Arizona State University.

“The bureau — established in 1884 — was among the first federal agencies to exercise more than nominal power in reshaping market activity.”

Olmstead and Rhode received the award during a Nov. 17­–20 meeting of the Social Science History Association in Chicago. Rhode is a professor and chair of economics at the University of Michigan.

Olmstead is the second UC Davis faculty member to win the interdisciplinary Sharlin Prize, given annually for an outstanding book in social science history. Peter Lindert, professor emeritus of economics, won in 2005 for Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the 18th Century


Reported by Kathleen Holder, who writes about the social sciences for the UC Davis College of Letters and Science.