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Politics, Performance, and Pseudoscience

When Feb 19, 2021
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM
Where Zoom
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The Center for American Literary Studies presents

Politics, Performance, and Pseudoscience

Friday, February 19, 2021, Noon-1:00 PM EST via Zoom

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For the first time in its publication history, The New England Journal of Medicine endorsed a candidate during the recent U.S. presidential election. While the journal's editorial was heralded as an unprecedented move, the politicization of science has always been a concerted point of inquiry in American health and medicine, not least of all during the nineteenth century. Drawing on the (bio)politics of science in our contemporary moment, this webinar takes a historical approach to explore how the politicization of science is intertwined with performance, plasticity, and pseudoism. Crucially, this webinar invites us to ask: What are the afterlives of these methods in current theories of health? Who are the usual "patients" of such techniques? And most importantly, how might literary analysis help us imagine different possibilities for the politics of science?

Panelists include:

  • Sari Altschuler, Associate Professor of English, Northeastern University, and author of The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States (Penn Press, 2018)
  • Christine (Xine) Yao, Lecturer, University College London, and author of Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America (under contract with Duke UP)
  • Christopher Willoughby, Visiting Fellow, Center for Humanities and Information, Penn State, and author of Masters of Health: Racial Science and Slavery in American Medical Schools (under contract with UNC Press)

 Moderated by:

  • Eunice Toh, Graduate Student, Departments of English and African American Studies, Penn State



This webinar is part of the 2020-21 CALS “Unprecedented” Webinar Series. “Unprecedented” is a word employed frequently by media, government officials, and lay persons alike to describe the phenomena surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Inspired by recent events and the rhetoric used to account for them, the “Unprecedented” series of one-hour webinars feature presentations and discussion by leading scholars, writers, and activists focused on better and less well-known developments in American literature and culture (and American literary and cultural studies) that might be, and in some cases have been, described as “unprecedented.”   

For additional information, please contact Sean X. Goudie, director of the Center for American Literary Studies, at