Melanie Kiechle

Melanie Kiechle

ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Fellow, 2011–2012

  • Phone: 215.873.8246
  • Fax: 215.629.5246

Melanie Kiechle received her B.A. from Colgate University in 2003. She currently is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Rutgers University, where she focuses on 19th-century cultural history of the United States. Her dissertation, “The Air We Breathe: Nineteenth-Century Americans and the Search for Fresh Air,” is a cultural history of “fresh air” and foul odors, as both were defined and refined in New York, Chicago, and Boston between 1840 and 1900. This project encompasses her interests in sensory history, experiential knowledge, the development of the urban-rural divide, and the fields of urban, environmental, and public-health history. It also has introduced her to such new interests as the development of chemistry, the use of nosegays, aromatic gardening, and nuisance law. Her research has been supported by grants from the Winterthur Library and Museum and the Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Social Policy.

Current Research

Kiechle’s dissertation assesses the role of sensory experience in late-19th-century environmental movements by comparing the efforts of chemists, doctors, engineers, politicians, and laypeople to eradicate industrial odors in Chicago, New York and Boston. Using government documents, chemists’ reports, personal files, and periodicals, this cultural history of “fresh air” recreates the common sense of the 19th century, when people believed that invisible miasmas governed their bodies. Chemists entered the debate over air quality as Board of Health members, when commissioned by municipal governments, or when summoned to testify about industrial practices of the “offensive trades.” As they interacted with other branches of science, the emerging public-health movement, and concerned citizens, chemists offered expert knowledge that others adopted and adapted to fit with lay beliefs and to articulate the importance of air quality.