The 25th Annual American Studies Forum
FORUM COURSE DESCRIPTION

Main

Courses

Faculty

Upcoming Forum


FEATURED TALK

Science, Medicine, & Culture

Priscilla Wald

 

PHASE I

1. The Emergence of a Scientific Theory

Priscilla Wald

2. Communicable Americanism

Priscilla Wald

3. Virology and Cold War Ideology

Priscilla Wald

4. Emerging Infections

Priscilla Wald

5. Biotechnology and the Language of Bioslavery

Priscilla Wald

6. How Genomics is Rewriting Race, Medicine and
    Human History

Priscilla Wald

     Suggested Readings/Viewing
 

PHASE II

1. The Body Politic: Understanding the Contemporary
    Division in American Politics

Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller

2. Religion and American Political Life

Neal Milner

 
 

Science, Medicine, & Culture
by Priscilla Wald

Issues involving science and health are constantly the subject of news media and popular culture vehicles such as film and fiction. The rapid pace of the advance of the genome sciences, the emergence of new infections, and increasingly intimate global connections may have resulted in over-simplified and even scientifically inaccurate accounts that severely distort the public’s understanding of biotechnological advances and communicable disease. This forum examines late twentieth-century treatments of science and medicine in a variety of media from science journalism to popular fiction and film. The goal is to understand how these ideas are presented to the general public, and the consequences of these often mis-informative depictions, especially as they recast social and global relations.

TOP

PHASE I

1. The Emergence of a Scientific Theory
by Pricilla Wald

This session lays the groundwork for the forum by offering a case study of how a scientific theory emerged from and was shaped by prevailing cultural assumptions and conventions. Growing out of contemporary discussions of “fallen women” in the early twentieth-century U.S., the story of “Typhoid Mary” illustrates how a scientific theory (the idea of the healthy human carrier) emerged from a combination of new scientific discoveries (eg. the microbe) and social preoccupations.

TOP

2. Communicable Americanism
by Pricilla Wald

Theories of contagion have been important features of nationalism throughout history, having been used to mark immigrants and migrants as dangerous to a nation's public health. In the early twentieth century, theories of the nascent science of bacteriology were central in the shaping of an idea of “American culture” that has persisted into the present. In turn, the concept of “culture” was shaped by ideas of contagion that have had far-reaching consequences and can help to explain the way stigma works in the U.S.

TOP

3. Virology and Cold War Ideology
by Pricilla Wald

Newspapers are not only important sources of information; they are also documents that change the stories they attempt to tell, sometimes via the accidental placement of “the news.” In the 1950s U.S., virology and communism were frequently front page news, often in adjoining columns. During the decade, news accounts increasingly borrowed metaphors from each of these areas to discuss the other, producing “sinister” and “sneaky” viruses and “contagious” communism, with consequences for both medicine and politics.

TOP

4. Emerging Infections
by Pricilla Wald

Wolfgang Petersen's 1995 film, Outbreak, tells a formulaic story of tracking an Ebola-like hemorrhagic virus from a village in Zaire to a northern California town, and chronicling how a team of epidemiologists contains the outbreak and saves the town. The topic quickly became the stuff of popular culture, in the mainstream media, fiction and film: the characteristic means through which scientific topics reach the public. The representational conventions, such as evocative images, stock phrases and predictable plot lines in both journalistic and science writing, as well as in fiction and film, shaped public understanding of “emerging infections.” The social and medical consequences of those conventions were evident in the recent experience of SARS, and they include the pathologizing of certain places, groups, and behaviors.

TOP

5. Biotechnology and the Language of Bioslavery
by Pricilla Wald

Biotechnological developments are challenging and complicating our most basic ideas about what it means to be human. In legal cases, political documents, and popular film and literature, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (prohibiting slavery) and the image of “bioslavery” have been called up to make sense of (and express anxiety about) such issues as transgenic experimentation and the patenting of cell lines from human beings with unusual DNA. But it is important to consider the ways in which the language of these depictions distorts the science involved, and with what consequences.

TOP

6. How Genomics is Rewriting Race, Medicine and Human History
by Pricilla Wald

Discoveries in the genome sciences are challenging conventional beliefs in every area of human life. They are reintroducing the possibility of biological definitions of race, changing practices in medicine, and offering new accounts of human migration. The consequences are enormous in every area of our life. It is crucial that we consider the social and ethical implications of these discoveries and understand the social contexts in which scientific discoveries are made.

TOP

PHASE II

1. The Body Politic: Understanding the Contemporary Division in American Politics by Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller

In this discussion, we will consider the cultural construction of a divided American space that has haunted the last two presidential elections. We will consider what dynamics indicate a political division, and ask why this division is accepted today as a sign of something wrong in the American body politic. Whether the perception of division poses a political problem will be the overarching concern of this session.

TOP

2. Religion and American Political Life
by Neal Milner

Many people argue that George Bush's re-election can be attributed to the rise of religion in the U.S. There is some truth to this, but this explanation may be both an exaggeration and an oversimplification. This lecture will argue that religion was indeed a key factor in this election, but it played a far more indirect and subtle role than most commentators claim.

TOP