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

Speaker: Joanna Radin # Yale University

17th Sep 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Chrystal MacMillan Building, Staff Room, 6th Floor

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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 to bend the colonial frontier from the Pacific into outer space.

Joanna Radin is Associate Professor of History of Medicine and History at Yale University