Kara Swanson HSS Award11.2.18 — Professor Kara Swanson has been awarded the History of Science Society’s Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize in recognition of her article, “Rubbing Elbows and Blowing Smoke: Gender, Class and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Patent Office,” published in Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society. The prize is annually awarded to a book or article that uses a biographical, institutional, theoretical or other approach to the history of women in science, which may include discussions of women’s activities in science, analyses of past scientific practices that deal explicitly with gender, and investigations regarding women as viewed by scientists.

According to the award citation, “Kara Swanson’s outstanding article opens up a moment in the history of women in mid-19th century American science when women were employed in the US Patent Office as clerks, working and receiving equal pay alongside 'scientific men' who were fighting for professional identity. Ambitious, theoretically sound, and fluently written, her article expands our understanding of the place women occupied in 19th-century science, including within the federal bureaucracy. Swanson deftly gets at the question of how scientific spaces were made hostile to women, and calls upon analytic tools of gender, class, space and embodiment to disentangle complexities. In particular, her attention to the 'social skin' of the workplace highlights practices of deportment and honor in mid-19th century American culture that shaped who fit in and who was edged out.”

Swanson is an accomplished scholar, legal practitioner and scientist whose chief interests are in intellectual property law, gender and sexuality, the history of science, medicine, and technology and legal history. In 2015, she received one of Northeastern University’s most prestigious prizes, the Robert D. Klein University Lectureship, which is awarded to a member of the faculty across the university who has obtained distinction in his or her field of study. In addition to her numerous publications in law reviews and peer-reviewed journals, Professor Swanson published a book on property in the human body in 2014, in which she uses the history of law and medicine to explore contemporary debates in the use of body parts. The book, Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk and Sperm in Modern America, was published by Harvard University Press. Her current book project, tentatively titled Inventing Citizens:  Race, Gender and American Nationhood, explores how the patent system became a political resource for groups seeking full civil rights.

Trained as a biochemist and molecular biologist at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, Swanson earned her law degree from Berkeley Law, and her PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2009.

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