Bil Browning

AIDS History: Prevention Posters From Around the World

Filed By Bil Browning | November 19, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: AIDS prevention, Edward Atwater, HIV prevention, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS history

I almost ignored this press release when it hit my inbox, but I'm really glad I didn't. The University of Rochester has released Dr. Edward Atwater's incredibly large collection of AIDS education posters (spanning 30 years) from around the world. The exhibit consists of more than 6,200 posters from 100 plus countries in Prevent-AIDS.jpg60 languages

They've put them all online and it is simply fascinating. You'll get lost looking through them all.

When Edward Atwater, M.D.,'50 boarded a subway car on Boston's Red Line in the early 90s he found himself staring at a poster unlike any he had seen before. It showed two hands, a condom wrapper, and text reading Prevent AIDS. Use One. Intrigued by what he saw, Atwater began to track how different societies viewed and responded to the worldwide epidemic through posters and other public messages, eventually gathering together the largest collection of AIDS posters in the world.

"I started collecting the posters to chronicle the history of medicine but soon realized that they represent more of a social history than a medical history," said Atwater, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a self-professed collector who lives in Rochester. That realization led the now 85-year-old retired physician to donate his collection to the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the University, with the stipulation that it be digitized and put online. By giving people around the world access to the collection online, Atwater's hope is to show people the responses from various societies to a deadly disease.

Looked at chronologically, the AIDS posters show how social, religious, civic, and public health agencies tailored their message to different groups. Depending on their audience, they used stereotypes, scare tactics, provocative language, imagery, and even humor. "The posters also show how regions, cultures, and religions influenced the message," said Atwater.

Three more examples after the break.


Photo credit: University of Rochester Atwater collection

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