PPE video essay

I chose mostly still images that gave a visual counterpoint to my narration. I tried to choose cropping and movement that made the photos come alive, sometimes revealing an amusing or shocking detail. To make the video, I first wrote the transcript, then noted on it where I planned to inset images. Then I assembled the images in the order laid out in the transcript. Afterwards, I recorded the voiceover and adapted the length of exposure of each image to fit the cadence of the voiceover. Finally, I inserted the titles and end credits. I had hoped to add music at the end during the credits, but I was unable to do so.

A short history of PPE 

Like most acronyms, PPE can stand for several things: Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Porcine Proliferative Enteropathy, Purple People Eater, and Personal Protective Equipment. This last one is the one we will be looking at in this video.

According to Wikipedia, Personal protective equipment (PPE) is “protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection”.  Protective equipment is intended to shield the wearer from physical, electrical, heat, chemical and biological hazards, and airborne particulate matter such as “cooties” and COVID-19. PPE may be part of your work uniform for occupational safety and health purposes, or sports uniforms and gear for other recreational activities. We use the term “protective clothing” for traditional categories of clothing, and “protective gear” for items such as pads, guards, shields, or masks. 

Now that we’ve defined PPE, you’re probably thinking it’s a recent invention: after all, hygiene is a relatively modern concept. However, as this video will show, you’d be wrong. After all, PPE isn’t only about hygiene: it’s about protection. Though we don’t have any prehistoric artefacts of PPE, anthropologists assure us they existed. It’s clear that human beings, who have no natural protection from the elements or predators, started trying to protect their bodies long ago, at least from visible threats. Long before fashion became a preoccupation, human beings invented different types of clothing to protect themselves from the elements.

Here are some examples of PPE that’s probably a lot older than you would think: 

Inuit snow goggles have existed for at least 4000 years. 

This is the first metal armor, dated around 1400 BC.

Pants have existed for at least 3000 years… but probably much longer.

The Mesopotamians protected themselves from the sun with turbans: this statue is 2350 years old.

The Egyptians invented the umbrella (or maybe parasol) over 1600 years ago.

They also invented the mosquito net: history tells us Cleopatra slept under one. This picture is for illustrative purposes only, as there were no photos of Cleopatra’s mosquito net.

You might think that surely sunglasses at least are a relatively modern Western invention, but the Chinese were already wearing them in the 12th century.

They also invented the raincoat a hundred or so years later. 

Over time, all of these forms of PPE were improved. For example, starting in at least the late 13th century, PPE such as body armor, boots and gloves were designed to protecting the wearer’s body from physical injury. The first armor was probably made of leather, but as weapons developed, so did the protection against them. Contemporary body armor, worn by riot police, soldiers and Iron Man, is lighter weight, more flexible and stronger.

As risks changed and developed, so did PPE. In the 16th century, European plague doctors wore protective uniforms with a full-length gown, helmet, glass eye coverings, gloves and boots to prevent contamination when dealing with plague victims. These were made of thick waterproofed cloth. A beaked mask filled with potpourri rounded out the equipment to save the doctors from the threat of miasma, bad smells which supposedly spread disease through the air. This might be considered the precursor to the gas mask.

More recently, examples of scientific PPE include the cloth facemasks worn in the 1910–11 Manchurian pneumonic plague outbreak. As a side note, many Western medics doubted the efficacy of facemasks in preventing the spread of disease.

Other example of scientific or medical PPE are lead radiation aprons; lab coats, goggles, gloves and aprons; scrubs; hazmat suits; and space suits.

As mentioned earlier, PPE extends further than just the medical and scientific fields. It also applies to these fields. Of course, there are those who think that PPE takes all the fun out of the game. You can also wear PPE for non-contact sports such as mountain climbing, fencing, squash, and scuba diving, but not extreme ironing… although…

In the 1970s, a new piece of PPE we now take for granted was introduced: the seatbelt

In the 1980s-90s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, this became another vital piece of personal protective equipment. 

In 2020, most people agree on what constitutes PPE. Depending on who you are and what you do, it could be this, this, this, this or this. 

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