Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine


The engagements that comprise the Mellon Sawyer Seminar “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine” interrogate the intersections among race, empire, and the environment, and their significance in the theory, practice, and structure of American biomedicine. These engagements consist of a series of public lectures, scholarly talks, and a regular interdisciplinary reading and discussion group. The seminar’s geographic frame is that of the American biomedical empire, a formation that includes the United States as well as those places formed by and encircled in the networks of American (biomedical) imperial influence. Within these geographies, race has functioned as a determinant of environmental exposures with deleterious impacts on human health. It also has been a central component of the environmental imaginaries that undergird the theory and practice of medicine and the provision of care. This seminar will approach the history and study of biomedicine from the vantage point of its racialized environments with an eye towards how these critical engagements might be marshaled to produce a more equitable practice of medicine. It is rooted in the proposition that to fully grasp the significance of race in medicine, we must probe how race is made material through environmental imaginaries, practices, and material entanglements, and how these in turn undergird and shape American biomedicine.

The Principal Investigators (PIs) of this Sawyer Seminar are Jennifer Derr (Associate Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz) and Jennifer Reardon (Professor of Sociology and the Founding Director of the Science and Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz). Maya Peterson, an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz who died in childbirth in June 2021, was also a co-PI for this project. The Seminar also includes postdoctoral scholar Anila Daulatzai and Graduate Fellows Aaron Aruck (PhD Candidate, History) and Juliana M. Nzongo (PhD Candidate, Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology).

The Seminar is administered by the Humanities Institute.

Visit the “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine” project website to learn more!

Past Events