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Week 10

Theme 2 Race, medicine and national identities: Subjects, citizens, and ‘civilization’

Week 10

Doctoring National Identity: ‘White Australia’

In the past weeks we have seen examples of medicine and science shaping and being shaped by racial assumptions and hierarchies. We have studied the power of scientific knowledge (however misconceived or faulty) to shape nation-building and national identity. But did science and medicine have the same power in the 20th century, and have these disciplines moved on from their racist pasts? This week we will look at the history of ‘White Australia’ in the 20t century, and ask: what roles did changing biomedical knowledge and practices play in shaping policy and society – and to what extent were biomedical 'facts' about race, health and disease in this period themselves socially constructed?


Seminar topic: What role did medicine play in the creation and demise of ‘White Australia’? Have we moved on yet?

Each student should bring to seminar a primary source document addressing the impact of medical conceptions of race from the mid 20th century to the present. These will be analyzed in class. Use the news media, the National Archives of Australia, the US and UK National Archives, science journals and popular science magazines, links to YouTube clips, etc. For an extended example, see:


Good archive access points include:


See also these digitised pages from the Modern Record Cente here on campus:

**Remember that this is an interdisciplinary module, so be sure to look at the pages for Politics and Sociology, as well as History modules!


Once you have a sense of what you might find in the archives, you can head for the full catalogues to explore further… Have fun!


Required Reading:

  • Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia, (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2006), Chapters 7, 8, ‘Conclusion’.

IF you cannot get a copy of the above, read:

  • Warwick Anderson, 'Ambiguities of Race: Science on the Reproductive Frontier of Australia and the Pacific Between the Wars', Australian Historical Studies, 40: 2, 143 — 160 [Taylor and Francis Journals]


Background and Further Reading:

Films: Jedda (1955) [clips at]; Night Cries (1989) [clips at]; The Rabbit-proof Fence [clips at ]


Roberta Bivins"The English Disease" or "Asian Rickets"? Medical Responses to Postcolonial Immigration’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 81: 3(Fall 2007), pp. 533-568

Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. "The Case of Race Classification and Reclassification under Apartheid." In Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), pp. 60-64, and 195-225.

Joseph Graves, The Emperor's New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001).

Sandra Harding, ed. 1993. The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future (Bloomington: Indiana University Press).

Mark Jackson, "Changing Depictions of Disease: Race, Representation and the History of Mongolism," in Waltraud Ernst and Bernard Harris, eds., Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960 (New York and London: Routledge, 1999) 167-188

Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman (eds.) The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions (New York: Times Books, 1995).

Daniel Kevles The Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986).

Natalia Molina, Fit to Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994)

Nancy Ordover, ‘National Hygiene: Twentieth Century Immigration and the Eugenics Lobby’, in Ordover, American Eugenics: Queer Anatomy and the Science of Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) pp. 1-56.

David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. Revised ed. (London and New York: Verso Books, 1999)

David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon New York: Verso, 2008

Nancy Leys Stepan and Sander L. Gilman, "Appropriating the Idioms of Science: The Rejection of Scientific Racism," in Sandra Harding, ed. 1993. The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). pp. 170-193.

Gwenda Tavan, The Long Slow Death of White Australia (Carlton North: Scribe Publications, 2005).

John Thompson, ‘White Australia has a Black History': Sources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in the National Library of Australia’ accessible at