Monstrosity in Medical Science: Race-Making and Teratology in the Nineteenth-Century United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay analyzes the medical study of “monstrous birth” as a site of race-making in the nineteenth-century United States. It argues that the medical theorization of monstrosity was structured by multiple logics of race, which both shaped and emerged from medical authorities’ efforts to classify and interpret anomalous newborn bodies. Materialized at the intersection of these logics, the biological monster theorized a racial order that was hierarchical, temporal-ized, and vulnerable to the dangers of women’s reproduction. In this context, monstrosity became a way to advance claims about the nature of racial hierar-chy, articulate the threat and mechanism of racial degeneration, and negotiate the contradictions of shifting racial imaginaries across the nineteenth century. Exploring the medical engagement with monstrosity thus sheds light on entan-glements of medical science and race-making in U.S. history, showing how prac-titioners produced and elaborated unstable concepts of scientific race, and re-vealing how race was linked to reproduction in the emergence of modern biomedical discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-536
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Monstrosity in Medical Science: Race-Making and Teratology in the Nineteenth-Century United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this