Date of Award


Degree Name

MA in History




College of Liberal Arts


Thanayi M. Jackson

Advisor Department


Advisor College

College of Liberal Arts


Plastic surgery has played an integral role in helping people achieve societal expectations of appropriate physical appearance since its inception. Through the story of Carlton Burgan, a Union soldier during the American Civil War, who suffered severe facial trauma by mercury poisoning, this thesis hopes to reconstruct the conversation around plastic surgery’s origins as it is influenced by societal standards of the day. Specifically, this thesis argues that the seminal moments leading to plastic surgery being seen as a worthwhile medical specialty was during the Civil War, not World War I as so many scholars have put forth. Violent acts to the body as a method to advance plastic surgery techniques is explored in relation to acceptable physical appearance. Societal beauty standards on the time are posited to be the force behind the development of plastic surgery techniques, not plastic surgeons themselves. Plastic surgery evolved as the United States grew and began to embrace the Second Industrial Revolution’s influence on attitudes about beauty, leading to changes in societal beliefs about what is suitable in terms of appearance. This thesis argues that the new science of psychology that emerged in parallel to the Second Industrial Revolution is the main strategy for plastic surgery to be reconstructed as a worthwhile medical specialty. The exploration of plastic surgery procedures of the nose, face and genitalia are discussed due to their importance in constructing societal appearance standards. The thesis concludes with a return to the story of Carlton Burgan and his role as a change agent in medicine.