What does it mean to think about health and illness as social constructions, rather than as biological realities? What are the cultural factors that shape debates about which diseases are public health threats or warrant investments for research and treatment? What factors shape debates about who is considered sick and well, who deserves care and who does not, and what medical procedures are appropriate and ethical? How do we explain the occurrence of particular health conditions in racialized populations? How do we make sense of the tension between notions of race as a social construct and biological evidence that some groups are genetically predisposed to certain conditions? How do the intersecting discourses of race and medicine shape the material conditions of people’s lives – the likelihood of becoming ill, of having access to care, or being perceived as deserving of support or being dismissed as a malingerer? 

In this course, we will explore these questions by asking how ideas about race and ethnicity have intersected with, shaped, and been shaped by ideas about health, illness, public health, and the practice of medicine. We will examine the intersecting histories of the social construction of racial identity; racism and anti-racism; the quest for civil and human rights; and medicine and public health. In short, we will place the intersecting histories of race and medicine at the center of U.S. culture from the Civil War to the present, and ask what looking through that lens reveals about how Americans imagine who is part of the nation and who is not, and what the privileges or consequences of being in one category or another are.