BBQ+: Studying Black, Brown, and Queer
Sarah Richardson, Harvard University

The Maternal Mystique: Knowing and Unknowing the Maternal-Fetal Interface

Professor Richardson will present a précis of her book-in-progress on the history of the science of maternal effects. This project, with the working title "The Maternal Mystique," theorizes and situates maternal effects research within the twentieth-century life sciences. The term “maternal effects” refers to the influences of a mother’s behavior, exposures, and physiology on her offspring’s future health and development. Once marginalized, maternal effects research blossomed in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Today, maternal effects research is an expanding field in medicine, public health, psychology, evolutionary biology, and genomics. The book will examine the intersection between the rise of maternal effects research in the life sciences and changing conceptions of motherhood, health citizenship, and genetic determinism in the twentieth century.

Sarah S. Richardson is Assistant Professor of the History of Science and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. A historian and philosopher of science, her research focuses gender in the biosciences and on the social dimensions of scientific knowledge. Richardson is the author of Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome and the co-editor of Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age.

Co-sponsored by the the Department of the History of Science and the Committee of Degrees on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.