Monstrous Births: Race, Gender, and Defective Reproduction in U.S. Medical Science, 1830-1930
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CitationRich, Miriam. 2019. Monstrous Births: Race, Gender, and Defective Reproduction in U.S. Medical Science, 1830-1930. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the history of “monstrosity” as a formal category in medical science, as a way to gain insight into developing discourses of race, reproduction, and deviant bodies in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century United States. Drawing on published, archival, and material-object sources from case histories of “monstrous birth,” it reveals how anomalous newborn bodies were birthed, produced, and theorized as monstrous specimens within the emerging practices, institutions, and epistemologies of scientific medicine. Positioned as an aberration of racial development, the corporeal body of the monster became a transfer point between social and biological meanings of human difference and relation. The dissertation traces the development of monstrous specimens through overlapping social, physical, institutional, intellectual, and political processes of production, examining the formation of monstrosity on both material and semiotic levels. The chapters explore different arenas of medical science in which monstrous bodies were invested with meaning, including embodied experiences of physician-attended childbirth; sensory and material processes of anatomical specimen production; institutional practices of collection and knowledge production; medical and scientific epistemologies of racial difference; and politics of eugenic science. This history begins in the early nineteenth century, with the formalization of teratology as the modern scientific study of monstrosity, and efforts by U.S. physicians to collect and classify monstrous births within emerging institutional structures of scientific medicine; it ends in the early twentieth century, with the gradual disappearance of monstrosity as a ubiquitous, routinely invoked category in U.S. medicine and biology. Challenging the notion that scientific interpretations of monstrosity represented a demystification or neutralization of the term’s cultural significations, the dissertation explores biomedical practice and knowledge production as sites of cultural meaning-making. It reveals how attention to monstrosity was enrolled in the gendered exercise of medical authority; the affective positioning and valuation of unlike bodies; and the theorization of racial difference, hierarchy, and degeneration. It locates this history within a growing assertion of biomedical control over the management of procreative bodies, and the interpretation of human variance and descent, showing how cultural concepts of race and defective reproduction were linked and concretized in the biological body of the monster.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029765
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