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“Rescaling Colonial Life From the Indigenous to the Alien: The Late 20th Century Search for Human Biological Futures”

Joanna Radin
Associate Professor of History of Medicine, Yale University
Date and Time: 
Friday, May 11, 2018 - 15:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


In this paper, I examine the telescoping scale of colonial life science from the 1960s through the early years of the 21st century by examining the career Baruch Blumberg. Blumberg (1925-2011), was a biochemist, medical anthropologist, and founding director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. He was also an avid reader who, as a young man, self-consciously styled himself on fictional portrayals of colonial explorers. Blumberg attained scientific renown in the mid- 1960s for his success in discerning the viral etiology of Hepatitis B, which he
accomplished based, in large part, on the analysis of blood samples collected from indigenous peoples in the Pacific. Later in his career, he would often emphasize that he did not set out to find Hepatitis B, or even any other “killer” virus. Rather, he worked from a set of assumptions that the ability to apply laboratory techniques to materials collected from living human and non-human populations would yield truly novel findings. These would be findings that could and did reframe science’s understanding of life itself and bend the colonial frontier from the Pacific into outer space.


Joanna Radin is Associate Professor (effective July 2018) of History of Medicine at Yale where she is also affiliated with the Departments of History and of Anthropology as well as the Programs in American Studies; Ethnicity, Race & Migration, and Religion & Modernity. Her research examines the speculative projects of the post-war life and human sciences. She has particular interests in feminist, indigenous, and queer STS; and science fiction. She is the author of Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood (Chicago 2017), the first history of the low-temperature biobank and co-editor, with Emma Kowal of Cyropolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World (MIT 2017), which considers the technics and ethics of freezing across the life and environmental sciences.