Department of History of Science
2015 to 2016
Monstrous Childbirth: Concepts of Race and Defective Reproduction in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Science, Medicine, and Law
This dissertation will investigate how nineteenth-century Americans made sense of the birth of infants with severe physical disabilities, a phenomenon then known as “monstrous birth.” Recognizing that the concept of monstrosity is frequently entangled with notions of race, my research situates monstrous birth within a history of race and reproduction by focusing on how specific linkages between race and monstrous childbirth developed and shifted across the nineteenth century. As expanding fields within science, medicine, and law encountered and interpreted such births, the racial meanings of severe congenital anomaly were transformed. My work draws on diverse scientific, medical, and legal sources to examine both how monstrous birth was invoked to articulate social anxieties about race, and how race structured the production of scientific knowledge about monstrous birth. This approach aims to provide a lens into the dynamic and mutually configuring relationships between race, science, and the lived meanings of bodily events.