Section of the History of Medicine

The Section of the History of Medicine is a freestanding unit in the Yale University School of Medicine engaged with research and teaching in the history of medicine, the life sciences, and public health. In addition to instruction for medical students, including mentoring M.D. theses, the faculty collaborates with colleagues in the History Department, in the Program in the History of Science and Medicine, which offers graduate programs leading to the M.A., Ph.D., and combined M.D./Ph.D. degrees and an undergraduate major in the History of Science/History of Medicine. The Section contributes to the Program's colloquia, and sponsors lectures, workshops, and symposia in medical history. Through research and teaching, the faculty seeks to understand medical ideas, practices, and institutions in their broad social and cultural contexts, and to provide intellectual tools to engage with the challenges faced by contemporary medicine.


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Joanna Radin wins 2017 John C. Burnham Early Career Award from the Forum for History of Human Science at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting


Citations for the John C. Burnham Early Career Award

2017 Prize: Joanna Radin, “Rescaling Colonial Life From the Indigenous to the Alien: The Late 20th Century Search for Human Biological Futures”

“Rescaling Colonial Life From the Indigenous to the Alien: The Late 20th Century Search for Human Biological Futures,“ follows the reach of colonial practices of natural history through genomics and into outer space. The article centers around biochemist and medical anthropologist Baruch Blumberg, who began his career collecting samples from colonial subjects in Surinam and ended it as head of the NASA program in Astrobiology. Joanna Radin’s history traces entwinements of colonial natural history, space exploration, and inductive methods in postwar biological science.

In the paper, Radin explores how frozen colonial pasts operate in the service of biological futures. Radin’s research refigures sample collection, induction and cryogenic suspension as modes of colonial science. Following histories of frozen blood samples collected from indigenous populations in the postwar period, Radin reveals a cryopolitics of “not letting die,” in the service of some future biological development. Radin’s impressive body of work offers unique contributions to the study of Cold War, postcolonial technoscience, genomics, big data, climate history, extinction, science fiction and speculative futures.

Radin deftly weaves a story of postwar scientific method with an account of postcolonial extraction. She shows how a colonial imaginary of frontier exploration and a scientific imaginary of induction, unite in a calling to “discover the unexpected.” Radin depicts Blumberg as a collector of samples, in the mode of a colonial natural historian, for whom the Pacific – and later the world, perhaps the solar system – figured as a living laboratory. Blumberg won the Nobel Prize for his work on Hepatitis B, derived from blood samples of indigenous peoples of the Pacific. As a NASA administrator, Blumberg harnessed a language of “new frontiers” – exploring where no one had yet gone – and language of basic science – seeking the unknown and following curiosity. He imagined a scientific exploration, the extraction and classification of new material, as capital to be realized in some biological future.

Radin elsewhere theorizes the temporalities involved in cryogenics, the freezing of biological matter. In this article, she explores a spatial scaling, from terrestrial colonial outposts to distant planets, from “indigenous human to the alien in biological science.” In keeping with her sensitivity to space and refoldings of the colonial past, Radin ends with a call, via Ursula Le Guin, to stop, turn one’s gaze from a frontier future and look down at one’s own roots.

2017 Burnham Prize Committee: Dana Simmons (chair) and Katja Guenther

Forum for History of Human Science

Read the latest Yale Medicine book review of Professor Joanna Radin's new book: Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood


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NEW BOOK: Translating the Body: Medical Education in Southeast Asia
Translating the Body

John Harley Warner, Avalon Professor in the Section of the History of Medicine and Department Chair, Professor of History and of American Studies

Edited by Hans Pols, C. Michele Thompson & John Harley Warner  -  October 2017 -  ISBN: 978-981-4722-05-6

Western conceptions of the body differ significantly from indigenous knowledge and explanatory frameworks in Asia. As colonial governments assumed responsibility for health care, conceptions of the human body were translated into local languages and related to vernacular views of health, disease, and healing. The contributors to this volume chart and analyze the organization of western medical education in Southeast Asia, public health education in the region, and the response of practitioners of “traditional medicine”.

read more:  nuspress.nus.edu.sg/products/translating-the-body-medical-education-in-southeast-asia



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AAHM 2017 - Garrison Lecture
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Naomi Rogers, Yale Professor in the History of Medicine, and History, presented the AAHM's 2017 Garrison Lecture:  "Radical Visions of American Medicine:  Politics and Activism in the History of Medicine".

The Garrison Lecturer, a scholar distinguished for contributions to medical history or other fields of science and learning, presents original and previously unpublished research in a lecture given at the American Association for the History of Medicine's annual meeting. 

Click here for video highlights from the lecture   Video credit: Laurel Waycott, video editing: Katherrine Healey.


NEW BOOK: Life on Ice
Radin book Life on Ice

Joanna Radin, Assistant Professor of History of Medicine, of History and of Anthropology, has published a new book, Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood, which was named by Nature as a best book of the week.

After the atomic bombing at the end of World War II, anxieties about survival in the nuclear age led scientists to begin stockpiling and freezing hundreds of thousands of blood samples from indigenous communities around the world. These samples were believed to embody potentially invaluable biological information about genetic ancestry, evolution, microbes, and much more. In Life on Ice, Joanna Radin examines how and why these frozen blood samples shaped the practice known as biobanking.

read the latest review: Yale Medicine, Autumn 2017, Vol 52, No.1

read more: www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/L/bo25681013.html