While trained primarily as a historian, my work cuts across the history of science, technology, and medicine, Science and Technology Studies, medical anthropology, and Indigenous Studies. Below are some of my ongoing research projects.
ARTICLES & CHAPTERS
Unsettling Biomedicine: Research, Care, and Settler Colonialism in Cold War Alaska
My current book project traces the emergence of biomedicine as a colonial industry in postwar Alaska. Beginning in the late 1940s, the American colonial project in Alaska rapidly accelerated, leading to the growth of resource extraction industries, an increased military presence, and an influx of white settlers. Running parallel to this process was the development of infrastructure to support biomedical research and expand public health surveillance. I argue that, during this period, American researchers, physicians, and health officials enrolled Alaska Native people as laborers, both biomedical and industrial, and defined Indigenous health in terms of labor capacity. These efforts were underpinned by the assumption that Alaska Native peoples would abandon subsistence lifestyles and become workers in a capitalist economy. Meanwhile, medical anthropologists, who were often funded and employed by state agencies, produced a body of research on “acculturation,” which argued that participation in capitalism was eroding the authenticity of Alaska Native cultures. Scholars have shown that certain economic activities, particularly those that are highly profitable, have often been seen as anathema to the maintenance of authentic Indigenous identities. My research demonstrates that this debate, previously framed as one of law, land, and culture, has been fundamentally shaped by biomedicine.
In the second half of Unsettling Biomedicine, I trace the ways that a diverse array of Alaska Native actors, including political leaders, activists, researchers, and healthcare workers, resisted biomedical claims and transformed biomedicine into an extension of sovereignty and self-determination. After the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Alaska Native peoples became shareholders in regional, for-profit corporations. Over time, these corporations contracted with the Indian Health Service and began to administer healthcare and control biomedical research in their respective regions. In doing so, the corporations maintained the connection between medicine and capitalism, transforming care into a dividend of economic success. However, they also developed braided medical systems that emphasized the importance of sustaining relationships to land and kin for the health of Indigenous peoples. In Unsettling Biomedicine, I argue that both settler colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty became unfolding bodily experiences shaped by the convergence of capitalism and biomedicine.
North to the Future: A History of Global Health in the Circumpolar World
My second book-length project explores historical moments when the international health community came to view circumpolar lands, peoples, and expertise as valuable. This project builds upon my dissertation research, where I observed that members of the circumpolar health research communities in Alaska and Canada often insisted that Indigenous communities in the Far North could serve as laboratories to test health and development programs intended for the Global South. While Global Health has attracted significant scholarly attention, this literature has not analyzed interventions in the Far North or examined how actors in the Far North collaborated with the international health community. As a result, this scholarship has tended to reify, rather than challenge, the postcolonial determinism of Global Health’s persistent “rich North” and “poor South” dichotomy. This project will therefore contribute to an ongoing debate amongst scholars of Global Health by asking: Whose health problems are considered to be “global” and under what circumstances?
Communications Technologies as Community Technologies: Satellites, Primary Care, and Alaska Native Sovereignty in the 1970s
In this article, Jeremy A. Greene and I examine a collaboration undertaken by NASA and the Indian Health Service in the 1970s to connect Indigenous community health aides in remote Alaskan villages to physicians in central hospitals via telecommunications satellites. This trial was the first of its kind and was intended to prove that telecommunications satellites could be valuable tools for improving and expanding access to primary care in the Global South, which was a key goal for the World Health Organization at the time. However, our research suggests that for Alaska Native communities the trial represented an opportunity to extend self-determination through healthcare, improve the working conditions of health aides, and limit the presence of white outsiders in their villages.
Darkness Falls: Normative Time, Labor, and Colonialism in the Far North
In this piece, Sarah Pickman and I trace the history of explorers and scientists who struggled to recreate familiar systems of hourly work for themselves and for the Indigenous peoples they encountered in the Far North. We argue that time itself, particularly seasonal cycles of prolonged light and darkness, became an obstacle that challenged outsiders’ notions of the proper work routines associated with capitalism and shaped their understanding of Arctic peoples and environments as radically “other.”
Crops of the Vaccine Virus: Medical Entrepreneurship and Consumer Trust on American Vaccine Farms, 1870-1900
This article explores the history of vaccine farms as examples of medical entrepreneurship in the late 19th century United States. I track the marketing practices that vaccine farm owners used to reassure customers that their product was safe and efficacious. Historians have shown that vaccine farms eventually became laboratories, which derived their authority from the emerging science of bacteriology. My research, however, is concerned primarily with the period before this transformation, during which the owners of vaccine farms borrowed language and practices from stockbreeders and other agricultural entrepreneurs in an effort to win over a skeptical public.
Libation as Liberation: Alcohol, Feminism, and The Politics of Work in Cold War America
This piece considers the relationship between the disease paradigm of alcoholism and changing gender roles, particularly those relating to participation in the labor force. Beginning in the late 1960s, some alcoholism researchers began to argue that alcoholism among women, particularly white women, was evidence that feminism had gone too far and that women could not handle the high-pressure work environments that men were used to. Feminist activists and mental health professionals, on the other hand, argued against these claims and suggested that it was ongoing sexism that drove women to drink. As a result, alcoholism among women became a central issue in a debate over whether gender roles had changed too much or failed to change sufficiently.