Beriberi (vitamin B1 or thiamin deficiency disease) is attributed to a predominantly white rice diet that lacks such thiamin-rich foods such as whole grains, beans, and pork. The geography of this affliction encompassed India, Southeast Asia, southern China, and Japan. Yamashita Seizō, a retired Tokyo University doctor who specializes in vitamin B research, has written four monographs on the history of beriberi in Japan, the most recent being O¯gai Mori rintaro¯ to kakkefunso¯ (鴎外森林太郎と脚気紛争Mori O¯gai and the Beriberi Dispute). Although he is not an academically trained historian, his background as a Tokyo University scientist makes him an authority on the beriberi archive. Nevertheless, his studies are limited to a “Whiggish” interpretation of history that narrates the inevitable progress toward the discovery of vitamins. Yamashita often cites the immature field of nutritional studies—that is, “vitamins had not yet been discovered”—to justify the decisions of...

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