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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


wellcome.pngThursday 24 November 2016
3.30pm in Seminar Room 2, Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Professor Alexandra Minna Stern (University of Michigan)

Eugenic sterilization in California: from demographic analysis to digital storytelling

From 1909 to 1979, California sterilized more than 20,000 patients in state homes and hospitals. This lecture draws from new interdisciplinary research into the history of sterilization, presenting both overarching demographic trends that illustrate the intersectional racial, gender, and diagnostic biases of compulsory reproductive surgery, and the experiences of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this medical intervention. These new findings are drawn from a dataset that I and my team created after digitizing more than 50,000 microfilm documents that had been long forgotten in the file cabinets of state agencies in Sacramento, California. This lecture asks how an in-depth interdisciplinary study of patterns and experiences of sterilization confirms and challenges historical understandings of eugenics, and highlights the value of epidemiological and demographic methods in historical analysis. The presentation also provides an overview of the digital archive we are creating that will feature data visualization and digital storytelling.

There will be tea before the lecture, at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and a drinks reception afterwards, at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Workshop led by Alexandra Minna Stern

The historical genealogy of the 'gay gene': tracing the science and politics of sexuality and biology

Thursday 24 November 2016
11.30am in Seminar Room 1 – all welcome

The 'gay gene' made its appearance in popular media in 1993 when the New York Times published a front-page story on the Xq28 region of the human genome. Dean Hamer and his team at the National Cancer Institute had isolated a locus on the X chromosome associated with homosexuality in 33 of 40 pairs of gay brothers who had 'identical pieces of the end tip of the X chromosome'. Dean's statistical methods indicated 'that the linkage results are statistically significant at a confidence level of >99 percent'. This study had been preceded by research on the genetic etiology of homosexuality that relied on family linkage and pedigree analysis, and on neuroscientific studies that located differences in the hypothalamic structures of homosexual and heterosexual men. In this workshop, I will share preliminary research on pre-history of the 'gay gene', exploring how constitutional medicine, psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology and genetics (especially twin studies) provided the techno-scientific and discursive foundation for the legibility of a the 'gay gene' as a social and biological construct. This paper is part of a book project that traces the long history of genetic etiologies of same-sex desire and identities and the complex interplay between sexuality and genetic essentialism, which has been instrumental in the consolidation of LGBTQ rights in recent years.

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Cambridge historians of medicine and biology are taking a long-term, cross-disciplinary approach to the history of reproduction.

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Explore our online exhibition on the history of embryo images.

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The Casebooks Project


Browse and search Simon Forman's and Richard Napier's records of thousands of consultations.

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