Convener: Zeynep Gürtin-Broadbent (CFR)
Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum
'The embryography of Alice B. Toklas' - Abstract
This essay analyzes the history of ideas about human embryos using comparative perspectives from medical anthropology, literary criticism, feminist philosophy, and history of science. Literary critics argue that Gertrude Stein's most famous book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is alluring precisely because it blurs traditional boundaries between biographical subject, biographer, and biography. Boundary blurring is not usually considered an asset, however, when applied to anatomical specimens including human embryos. In this essay, I argue that embryos should be understood as the product of stories told by the biomedical scientists who worked in early 20th century anatomical laboratories. The manuscript begins with Gertrude Stein's failed attempt to construct an anatomical model of an embryo brain while she was a medical student at Johns Hopkins. In comparing Stein's anatomical and literary 'vagaries' to the scientists' allegedly factual models, the manuscript raises questions about the production and ontological stability of the entities known as 'embryos'.
Lynn Morgan is Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Five College Program in Culture, Health, and Science at Mount Holyoke. Her research interests include the social history of embryology, feminist social studies of science, critical medical anthropology, and the political economy of health. Her area specialty is Latin America, particularly Costa Rica and the Ecuadorian Andes.
In her work on feminist social studies of science, medical anthropology, and the political economy of development, Lynn Morgan doesn't shy away from difficult or controversial subjects. In 1999, she coedited Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions, a book of fifteen essays addressing one of the most difficult areas in current feminist thought-the meaning and degree of personhood of the human fetus. Her own essay in the volume traces how this century's advances in medical science, especially in embryology and human biology, have helped shape American views of the unborn inherently different from those held by other cultures.
All are welcome to attend, but we request attendees to have read the article. Copies are available from CRASSH reception.