Archived Versions

STS.330J / 21A.830J History and Anthropology of Medicine and Biology

As taught in: Spring 2009

A lab worker examines a blood sample (grayscale photograph).

The examination of a blood sample in Middlesex Hospital in London. (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.)




Prof. David Jones

Prof. Stefan Helmreich

Course Description

This course explores recent historical and anthropological approaches to the study of life, in both medicine and biology. After grounding our conversation in accounts of natural history and medicine that predate the rise of biology as a discipline, we explore modes of theorizing historical and contemporary bioscience. Drawing on the work of historian William Coleman, we examine the forms, functions, and transformations of biological and medical objects of study. Along the way we treat the history of heredity, molecular biology, race, medicine in the colonies and the metropole, and bioeconomic exchange. We read anthropological literature on old and new forms of biopower, at scales from the molecular to the organismic to the global. The course includes readings from the HASTS Common Exam List. The aim of this seminar is to train students to be participants in scholarly debates in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences about the nature of life, the body, and biomedicine.