AIHP Opens Online Historical Exhibit

1901 New York Quinine advertisment
1901 New York Quinine advertisement for several drugs including morphine, cocaine, and quinine. The ad features a stereotypical image of a Native American to emphasize that the drugs are “natural” and safe. Image from the AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

AIHP is pleased to announce the opening of the online historical exhibit, “The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising.” Composed mostly of images and artifacts from the joint collection of AIHP and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, the virtual exhibit documents how drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers have misappropriated Native and Indigenous imagery, customs, and beliefs to market their products—particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The online exhibit is part the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Our Shared Future initiative that seeks to educate the campus and the broader community about the University’s complicated and difficult history with the Ho-Chunk Nation, on whose ancestral land the campus is located. The University is sponsoring a variety of educational activities to spark learning and deepen understanding about the Ho-Chunk Nation and other regional Indigenous history and culture. AIHP is located on the UW–Madison campus.

As the exhibit discusses, Indigenous peoples in North America have long used medicinal plants and botanicals to treat illnesses and diseases. White American society adopted some native plants for therapeutic purposes and also came to strongly associate medicinal plants and natural medicines with Indigenous cultures. Drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, in turn, capitalized on these beliefs and co-opted Native and Indigenous imagery and iconography to market drugs and medicines containing plants and natural products. Drug companies often relied on these misrepresentations and misappropriations of Native Americans and Indigenous cultures to brand their products as “natural” and safe for therapeutic purposes.

The exhibit includes stylized and stereotypical images of Native Americans based on the prejudiced conceptions held by white American culture. Drug companies frequently used simplistic and degrading misrepresentations of Native/Indigenous people to advertise their products to consumers. Use of these uncomfortable artifacts and difficult images is intended to help viewers confront, acknowledge, and understand how white Americans have co-opted, misappropriated, and exploited Native/Indigenous culture, particularly in regard to drugs, medicines, and healthcare

A few sample images are displayed below, but please be sure to visit the online exhibit to explore all of the images and read the full exhibit text!

AIHP Historical Director Dr. Lucas Richert and Curator Beth Fisher designed the exhibit, with significant contributions from Institute staff members Kristen Huset, Dr. Greg Higby and Dr. Greg Bond. The exhibit was made possible by a grant from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with additional support from the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy.

Sample Images from the AIHP exhibit, “The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising:

From left to right:
1889 Wright’s Vegetable Pills advertisement.
c. 1895 Morse’s Indian Root Pills Cook Book cover.
c. 1950 Princess Newmoon Herbs container.
1960 Healthway Products Almanac cover.

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