I turned my ramblings on the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill into a paper proposal for the 2011 annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine. Yay! The title of my paper is “The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory.” I’ll write more later but just thought I’d share this exciting news!
Added later: here’s the abstract:
This paper will use coverage of the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill as a case study of collective memory and commemorative practice in the history of science and medicine. As Pnina Abir-Am observes in her introduction to Commemorative Practices in the Sciences, a “commemorative mania” has swept the world in the past several decades and relationship between memory and historical writing has become “a major element of both scholarly and public discourse in the twenty-first century.” I will show that like the Clemence Royer centennial celebration described by Joy Harvey in the same volume, celebration of the Pill’s 50th anniversary was a “focal point for feminism, politics, and science” in the United States. For the scientists who developed and tested the first contraceptive pills, the anniversary of the Pill was a way to affirm their collective professional past as well as reassert their professional authority in the present. The celebrations also illustrated culture wars over reproductive rights and the meaning of controversial events in the history of science and medicine in the United States. Finally, I will show that feminist analysis of this historical event was not monolithic, but reflects the complicated history of women’s relationship to contraceptive technology and medical experimentation since the 1960s.
- Explain the ways in which different political, scientific, and social groups commemorated the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill.
- Understand how memory studies can be used as an analytical tool in the history of medicine.
- Explore the difficulties historians face in interpreting a politically controversial subject for the public.