Category: History

Pathologizing Politics: Eugenics and Political Discourse in the Modern United States

Carrie Buck was three months shy of her twenty-second birthday when she was forcibly sterilized on October 19, 1927. Buck’s fate was based on the 1924 Virginia eugenic sterilization law, which marked individuals for sterilization based on vague and misleading concepts such as immorality, defectiveness, weak-mindedness, and promiscuity.1 Eugenicists, social hygienists, and lawmakers passed state… Read more →

Eugenic Sperm

In 1974, a Los Angeles Times staff writer interviewed Dr. Donald Adler, a Beverly Hills gynecologist who ran a sperm bank out of his private practice.1 Adler described for the interviewer his process of selecting sperm donors for health and intelligence, and in turn the interviewer asked him whether he considered his practice eugenic. Adler,… Read more →

The Spaces of Screening: Tracing the Spatial Geographies of Mobile Mammography from Carparks to the Cosmos

In 2019, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) launched a new cancer detection initiative. In this pilot program, the NHS harnessed “technology developed for space travel” to design a series of mobile cancer screening vans, which have been placed in Sainsbury’s and Morrisons supermarket parking lots across Great Britain (Figure 1). Designed by the UK space… Read more →

Where a Pregnancy Can Last for Years: The Remarkable Colonial Reports of Sleeping Pregnancies in the Maghreb

A couple patiently waits for a healthy child after a pregnancy that has lasted several years. A desperate widow claims her newborn is her husband’s child, years after his death. Fetuses are made to “fall asleep” in the womb and hibernate there for years until woken up again. In the French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco,… Read more →

“Kiss Via Kerchief”: Influenza Warnings in 1918

Just over one hundred years ago, New York Health Commissioner Royal S. Copeland responded to the threat of “Spanish” influenza reaching the United States with the reassuring, if completely misguided, prediction that “there is nothing to be alarmed about so far as I can see.”1 Yet the part of Copeland’s warning that “went viral,” to… Read more →

Carrying Community: The Black Midwife’s Bag in the American South

The classic 1953 documentary film All My Babies features the life and work of Mary Coley, a legendary African-American “granny” midwife.1 The film follows Coley as she travels around her rural Georgia community carrying her ever-present black satchel. In one memorable scene, the exhausted midwife returns home after a long night of “catching babies.”2 As… Read more →

A Miscarriage of Justice

My book, A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil (Stanford University Press, 2020), begins and ends with the story of twenty-nine-year-old Isalina Vieira, a Brazilian woman living in the country’s capital of Rio de Janeiro. One October morning in 1912, Vieira went into labor. She called her female… Read more →

Just Being There: The AIDS Crisis and the Shanti Project’s Hospital Counselor Program

When Ward 5B premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, the nurses of the first AIDS inpatient unit in the United States walked down the red carpet with movie stars Julianne Moore and Halle Berry. Garnering critical and popular praise as well as Oscar buzz, Ward 5B explores the famed AIDS unit from the time it… Read more →

Containing Explosives: The Cold War Link between Bombs and Breasts

I don’t know that it’s possible to watch Mad Men without experiencing a healthy envy of Betty Draper’s flawless white, suburban housewife aesthetic. Produced by Matthew Weiner and created by Lionsgate Television, Mad Men (2007–15) brilliantly narrates the gripping Cold War story of mysterious executive Donald Draper and his colorful coworkers and acquaintances at an… Read more →

Assassination as Cure: Disease Metaphors and Foreign Policy

On January 3, 2020, I was at my mother’s house where CNN is her constant companion. A drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and nine others. I was horrified and wanted to hear the news, but I was only half-listening because I hate CNN’s so-called analysis and… Read more →