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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Affiliated Scholar

External College Lecturer and Director of Studies for HPS at Magdalene College

Research interests: Twentieth century history of medicine and public health, history of sexuality and sexually transmitted infections, history of HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 contact tracing, visual sources.

I joined the Department in January 2013 on a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship, following a master's and doctorate at the University of Oxford and an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at King's College London. My current research project, 'Before HIV: Homosex and Venereal Disease, c.1939–1984', examines the process by which healthcare workers and gay men, among other groups, became increasingly interested in the role played by men who had sex with men in the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. The research concentrates on the middle decades of the twentieth century, with a geographic focus on Canada, the United States, and England. Though my research fellowship concluded in July 2021, I continue to work on this project independently while remaining affiliated with the Department.

I work part-time as a historical researcher and writer, spending the rest of my working time in private practice as a credentialed career/academic/life coach, accredited by the International Coach Federation.

My research on the history of the idea of 'patient zero' has been adapted for various audiences, offering inspiration for a German and English musical theatre production, 'AIDS Folies', performed in Berlin, Vienna, and Stuttgart in 2018. I served as historical consultant for Killing Patient Zero (Fadoo Productions, 2019), the documentary feature based on my book, Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic. The film, written and directed by Laurie Lynd, was awarded the American Historical Association's 2020 John E. O'Connor Film Award for outstanding interpretation of history through film (documentary category).

Since 2012 I have served on the executive committee of the Society for the Social History of Medicine, becoming Treasurer for the Society in 2022. In 2019, I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.




Richard A. McKay, Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Articles and Book Chapters

'Mobilizing Health between the Global and the Planetary: Apollo 11, Airstream, and NASA's Planetary Quarantine Program', in Planetary Health Humanities and Pandemics, edited by Heike Härting and Heather Meek (New York: Routledge, 2024), 73-100.

'The “Reservoir” Metaphor in Anti-Venereal-Disease Campaigns in Mid-Twentieth-Century North America'Medical Anthropology 42 (2023), 415-31.

Justin Barr, Richard A. McKay & Deborah B. Doroshow, 'The Dangers of "Us Versus Them": Epidemics Then and Now', Journal of General Internal Medicine 36 (2021), 795-96.

Erica Charters and Richard A. McKay, 'The History of Science and Medicine in the Context of COVID-19', Centaurus 62 (2020), 223–33.

Richard A. McKay, Margaret Pelling, Margaret Humphreys, Frank Huisman, Abigail Woods & Yewande Okuleye, 'Why Do We Do What We Do? The Values of the Social History of Medicine', Social History of Medicine 33 (2020), 3–17.

Michael Worobey, Thomas D. Watts, Richard A. McKay, Marc A. Suchard, Timothy Granade, Dirk E. Teuwen, Beryl A. Koblin, Walid Heneine, Philippe Lemey & Harold W. Jaffe, '1970s and "Patient 0" HIV-1 genomes illuminate early HIV/AIDS history in North America', letter, Nature 539 (3 November 2016), 98–101.

'Before HIV: Venereal Disease Among Homosexually-active Men in England and North America', in The Routledge History of Disease, edited by Mark Jackson (London: Routledge, 2016), 439–57.

'"Patient Zero": The Absence of a Patient's View of the Early North American AIDS Epidemic', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 88 (2014): 161–94.

'Sex and Skin Cancer: Kaposi's Sarcoma Becomes the "Stigmata of AIDS", 1979–1983', in A Medical History of Skin: Scratching the Surface, edited by Jonathan Reinarz and Kevin Siena (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 113–28.

Selected Reviews

Before AIDS: Gay Health Politics in the 1970s. By Katie Batza, Journal of Social History 53 (2020): 862-64.

'HIV/AIDS Histories: Community Service Organisations and the Direct-Action AIDS Movement in Documentary Film', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 88 (2014): 734–37.



'Patient Zero and the Early North American HIV/AIDS Epidemic', U.S. National Library of Medicine Higher Education Module, part of the online exhibition Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture, 2013.