Reproductive Health Histories

Reproductive health has fuelled some of the greatest debates and opinions in recent years. Rising inflation and cost of living has led many to speculate about the impact the current economic climate is having on family planning. Reproductive health issues came to political center stage in 2022 with the overturning of federal abortion protections in the United States, and emerging technologies like the male birth control pill and breast cancer vaccine further catapulted reproductive medicine and sexual health into popular consciousness. This working group provides a space for scholars to come together to think about how present-day issues and personal experiences influence our work in reproductive health history. In addition to shining a light on new directions in the field, we invite reflections on the ethics and practices that guide our research as well as on how historical narratives can be better used to advance gender and reproductive rights.

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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

  • Thursday, March 21, 2024 12:00 pm EDT

    Reproductive Technologies
    This session will examine the history and future trends of researching and writing about reproductive technologies.


  • Thursday, April 18, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Gender, Masculinity and Reproduction
     
    Here, we will explore how gender and masculinity shapes how we think about human reproductive experiences and the histories we write about them.
     


  • Thursday, May 16, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Reproducing History: Writing Histories of the Personal
    This session will focus on how historians have used their own healthcare experiences to complement and inform their research and advocacy work.
     



Past Meetings

  • February 15, 2024

    Oral Histories
     
    In this session we will reckon with the value and challenges of using oral history as a source in humanities and social science research on reproduction.
     
    To prepare us for this task, we ask participants to read and reflect on the following four articles: 
     
    1) Kristin Hay, "More than a defence against bills’: feminism and national identity in the Scottish abortion campaign, c. 1975–1990." Women's History Review 30, no. 4 (2021): 594-612
     
    2) Brianna Theobald, "Epilogue Twenty-First-Century Stories," in Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century, 173-183. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 
     
    3) Kathryn Anderson, Susan Armitage, Dana Jack and Judith Wittner, "Beginning Where We Are: Feminist Methodology in Oral History," The Oral History Review 15, no. 1 (1987): 103-127.
     
    4) Anna Sheftel and Stacey Zembrzycki, "Telling Interview Stories: Understanding Oral History from the Perspective of Practice," Active History, 11 November 2013.
     
    Kristin Hay,  a tutor in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow and expert on women’s reproductive health, rights and oral history. will be joining us to help guide group discussions and offer commentary on her piece. 
     
    As always, all readings can be accessed via the embedded hyperlinks, or from this session's downloadable ZIP file (below). 


  • January 18, 2024

    Taking ‘Patient’ Histories
     
    This session will focus on how scholars can engage with ‘patient’ narratives  in both oral testimonies and archival records responsibly, in ways that avoid replicating medicalization and pathologization.
     
    This week, we ask that participants explore the following three pieces: 
     
    1. Michael Worboys, "The non-patient's view." In Patient Voices in Britain, 1840–1948, edited by Anne Hanley and Jessica Meyer, Manchester University Press, 2021. 
    2. Katrina Ackerman, “Before Mifegymiso: A History of Rural Women’s Access to AbortionActive History, 24 November 2016.
    3. Abortion Diary Entry 152: Anonymous, 65 (Poughkeepsie, NY 1969) [Podcast]
     
    Further Readings: 
     
    1. Roy Porter, “The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below,” Theory and Society 14, no.2 (1985): 175-198.
    2. Warwick Anderson, “The Case of the Archive,” Critical Inquiry 39, no.3 (2013): 532-547.
    3. Jessica Meyer and Alexia Moncrieff, “Family not to be informed? The ethical use of historical medical documentation.’ In Patient Voices in Britain, 1840–1948, edited by Anne Hanley and Jessica Meyer, Manchester University Press, 2021. 
     
    This week, we will be joined by Dr. Louise Williams, who will share some reproductive health materials held at Edinburgh’s Lothian’s Health Services Archive and will help guide discussions on the ethics and practice of using patient histories in historical research. 
     
    As always, readings can be accessed via this session's downloadable ZIP file (below). Both required and further readings are included in the file. However, discussions will center around the Worboys and Ackerman piece. 


  • November 16, 2023

    Reproductive (In)Justice
     
    In this session, we will grapple with reproductive politics and injustices and discuss how academic scholarship has and can continue to be used to advance reproductive rights and social justice.
     
    To help anchor our discussions, we invite participants to read and reflect on the following three pieces: 

    1. Dána-Ain Davis, "Radical Black Birth Workers." In Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy and Premature Birth, 169-197. New York: NYU Press, 2019.
    2. lIana Löwy and Marilena Cordeiro Dias Villela Corrêa, "The “Abortion Pill” Misoprostol in Brazil: Women’s Empowerment in a Conservative and Repressive Political Environment," American Journal of Public Health, 110 no.5 (2020): 677-684.
    3. Ilana Löwy, "Fetuses: Women, Doctors and the Law," in Viruses and Reproductive Injustice: Zika in Brazil. Baltimore: JHU Press, Forthcoming 2024.*

     
    We will be joined by Ilana Löwy (CERMES 3, Paris) who will participate in group conversations and offer commentary on her piece.
     
    *For this session, Ilana has generously offered to share a chapter from her very exciting (and relevant) new book: Viruses and Reproductive Injustice: Zika in BrazilSince this book is not yet published, this piece has not been uploaded to the CHSTM website. Instead, interested readers can get hold of a copy by emailing Jennifer Fraser (jennifer.fraser@kcl.ac.uk) or one of our other working group convenors directly. All other readings can be accessed via this session's downloadable ZIP file (below). 


  • October 19, 2023

    Reproducing History: Writing Histories of the Present 
    This session will foreground contemporary discussions about the role of presentism in history and examine how present-day ideas and perspectives have and continue to inform how we think and write about reproductive health.
     
    As prompts, we invite participants to read and reflect on the following essays:
     
    1) Regina Markell Morantz, "The Perils of Feminist History," The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4, no.4 (1974): 649-660.
    2) Emily Baughan, "Reading Penelope Leach in Lockdown," PLAYGROUP Substack, 11 April 2023.
     
     This week we will be joined by Emily Baughan (University of Sheffield) who will participate in group discussions and offer commentary on her piece.


  • September 21, 2023

    Introductions and Overview of Working Group Program
     
    In this introductory session, we will reflect on the role that history plays in present-day conversations about reproductive health. To stimulate conversations, we encourage participants to read one of the following pre-selected news articles: 

    1. Samira K. Mehta and Lauren MacIvor Thompson, "The Supreme Court’s abortion decision is based on a myth. Here’s why." June 24, 2022.
    2. Billy Briggs, "US Christian right ‘dark money’ backed anti-abortion Glasgow students." March 28, 2019.
    3. Peggy O’Donnell Heffington, "Don’t want a baby because of climate fears? You’re not alone." 19 April 2023.

     
    We will also provide an overview of the reading group's schedule, discuss future directions, and gauge participant interest in potential collaborative outputs. We would also like to use this time for participants to get to know each other.
     
    To facilitate introductions, we invite participants to share excerpts of their work related to the working group theme. These pieces (either academic, or more public facing) should be submitted to Dr. Jennifer Fraser (jennifer.fraser@kcl.ac.uk). All excerpts submitted by September 18, 2023, will be circulated to the larger group in advance of the first meeting. 
     


Group Conveners

  • agnesaf's picture

    Agnes Arnold-Forster

    Agnes is an interdisciplinary historian of science, medicine, healthcare, and the emotions. She is a Chancellor’s Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and has researched the history of cancer, the women’s health movement, the emotional dynamics of healthcare labour, surgery and the surgical identity, vaccine hesitancy and public health, the NHS, and patient complaint. She co-runs the Healthy Scepticism project and is a co-investigator on the CIHR-funded project: Pelvic Health & Public Health in Twentieth Century Canada. Her first book, The Cancer Problem was published by OUP in 2021; her co-edited collection, Feelings and Work in Modern History came out with Bloomsbury in 2022; her second monograph, Cold, Hard Steel: The  Myth of the Modern Surgeon, is being published by MUP later in 2023; and her third, Nostalgia: A Biography, is forthcoming with Picador in 2024. She is now working on a new project, exploring the recent history of health activism, scepticism, and medical mistrust in the United Kingdom.

     

  • JenniferFraser's picture

    Jennifer Fraser

    Jennifer is a historian of health, gender and global chronic disease epidemiology who recently completed her PhD at the University of Toronto’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. She is a member of the Wellcome Trust-funded project “Cartographies of Cancer: Epidemiologists and Malignancies in Sub-Saharan Africa” at King’s College London’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. She is also an Associated Medical Services Fellow, where she is pursuing a study of the global politics of hyperemesis gravidarm, a condition that affected her profoundly during her first pregnancy. Her work has been featured in Technology and Culture, Science in Context, the Canadian Bulletin for Medical History, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and History of the Human Sciences, as well as in the edited collection: Historical Explorations of Modern Epidemiology: Patterns, Populations and Pathologies.

     

  • karissa.patton's picture

    Karissa Patton

    Karissa is a historian of gender, sexuality, health, and activism in the late 20th century. She’s an interdisciplinary Research Fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh, where she’s studying the comparative history of reproductive activism and healthcare in Canada and the United Kingdom from 1967 to the 1980s. She is a co-investigator on the CIHR-funded  project: Pelvic Health & Public Health in Twentieth Century Canada. Her most recent work on the history of the self-exam as a feminist health practice, collaborating with Whitney Wood, can be found in the Canadian Historical Review. Her doctoral work at the University of Saskatchewan and MA work at the University of Lethbridge examined the history of local birth control centres in Southern Alberta. Some of this work is featured in her co-edited collection, Bucking Conservatism (open access). More of her work can be found in the Canadian Journal of Health History and the edited collection Compelled to Act.

     

  • whitneywood's picture

    Whitney Wood

    Dr. Whitney Wood is a historian of gender, health, and the body, in 19th and 20th century Canada, with a focus on cultural and medical representations of obstetric and gynecological pain. Her work has appeared in Social History of Medicine, Medical Humanities, and the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, in addition to a number of edited collections. She is currently working on a study entitled, Changing Childbirth in Postwar Canada, 1945-2000, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant, and is principal investigator of a new multi-year collaborative study, Pelvic Health and Public Health in Twentieth Century Canada, funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Project Grant.

     

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