School of Humanities and Sciences
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Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of History and Professor, by courtesy, of French and Italian
BioI have taught the early history of science and medicine for many years on the premise that one of the most important ways to understand how science, medicine and technology have become so central to contemporary society comes from examining the process by which scientific knowledge emerged. I also take enormous pleasure in examining a kind of scientific knowledge that did not have an autonomous existence from other kinds of creative endeavors, but emerged in the context of humanistic approaches to the world (in defiance of C.P. Snow's claim that the modern world is one of "two cultures" that share very little in common). More generally, I am profoundly attracted to individuals in the past who aspired to know everything. It still seems like a worthy goal.
My other principal interest lies in understanding the world of the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Italy. I continue to be fascinated by a society that made politics, economics and culture so important to its self-definition, and that obviously succeeded in all these endeavors for some time, as the legacy of such figures as Machiavelli and Leonardo suggests. Renaissance Italy, in short, is a historical laboratory for understanding the possibilities and the problems of an innovative society. As such, it provides an interesting point of comparison to Gilded Age America, where magnates such as J.P. Morgan often described themselves as the "new Medici," and to other historical moments when politics, art and society combined fruitfully.
Finally, I have a certain interest in the relations between gender, culture and knowledge. Virginia Woolf rightfully observed at the beginning of the twentieth century that one could go to a library and find a great deal about women but very little that celebrated or supported their accomplishments. This is no longer true a century later, in large part thanks to the efforts of many scholars, male and female, who have made the work of historical women available to modern readers and who have begun to look at relations between the sexes in more sophisticated ways. Our own debates and disagreements on such issues make this subject all the more important to understand.
Associate Professor of Anthropology
BioI am an anthropologist of science and medicine interested in how social identities, health outcomes, and molecular genetic findings increasingly intersect. In my first book, The Enculturated Gene: Sickle Cell Health Politics and Biological Difference in West Africa (Princeton, 2011), I draw on over a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the US, France and Senegal. By bringing the lives of people with sickle cell anemia together with how the science about them has been made, The Enculturated Gene weaves together postcolonial genetic science, the effects of structural adjustment on health resources, and patient activism between Senegal and France to show how African sickle cell has been ordered in ethnic-national terms at the level of the gene. This work is situated within a larger conversation on ethics, power, and the ways that human biological material, within the context of culture, is rarely apolitical. The Enculturated Gene has won the Royal Anthropological Institute’s 2011 Amaury Talbot Prize for the most valuable work of African Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association’s 2014 Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology.
Since 2003, I have also conducted multi-sited field research in the United States on emergent technologies that measure human genetic diversity among populations and between individuals. As an outgrowth of this research, I have become particularly interested in how scientists promote civic ideas of “genetic citizenship,” how they enlist participant involvement in specific disease research problems, and how they also contribute to social movements of historical reckoning. In its detail, this second book project explores how U.S. political concepts of diversity, usually glossed as “race,” function in genetic recruitment protocols and study designs for research on complex diseases, “tailored medicine,” ancestry tracing, and personal genomics. This project will also examine the fraught relationship between private property and personal privacy with regards to biogenetic data.
My work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Andrew and Florence White Fellows program in Medicine and the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. I have also been an invited scholar at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation in Paris (1997-1998, 2000 and 2002), a USIA Fulbright Scholar to Senegal, a fellow at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2004-2005), and a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health (2005-2007). I recently completed a Scholars Award in NSF's Science & Society Program to research my second book called Tabula Raza: Mapping Race and Human Diversity in American Genome Science.