Department of History
2011 to 2012
Dissertation Research Fellow
The Body as Ecosystem: Good Germs and American Bodies, 1940s-1990s
Abstract: My dissertation examines the scientific, political and cultural lives of “friendly bacteria” living in the human body. These “good germs” are the starting point for a line of developments in biomedicine that have been neglected by historians but which has become scientifically productive. I will argue that there was an ecological turn in microbiology sparked by the elimination of body microbes precipitated by antibiotics that reshaped scientific understandings of the microbe’s relationship to human health and disease. This led to a reframing of the human body as an ecosystem by an enterprising community of microbiologists, concerned environmental activists and hippies, discipline-building clinicians, and safety-conscious government regulators over the course of several decades. My approach will be to follow microbes through lay and expert communities of practice to tell a new story about their scientific and cultural valence which connects laboratory, field work, agriculture, industry and popular culture in unexpected ways.