Patrick Walsh

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

2021 to 2022
Fellow in Residence

Raised from the Living: Making Therapy from Biology, 1880s-1940s

From the 1880s, microbiologists, physiologists, immunologists and endocrinologists converged on a common therapeutic enterprise: the making of highly specific therapies from heterogeneous biological materials, described collectively as “biologics.” In university and commercial laboratories in Europe and America, they created serotherapies from toxins, vaccines from microbes, hormone injections from glands, and other “therapeutic sera.” But what did these therapies and experimentalists have in common? What was biological about biologics? Historians of biology and medicine have given separate accounts of therapies like vaccines and hormones but few synthetic accounts of the wider therapeutic project. We do not fully understand why these therapies came to be bundled together as “biologics,” nor how they united such a diverse group of experimentalists. My project investigates this untold story. Why did these remarkable convergences occur from the 1880s, and how were these experimentalists rethinking and reforming categories of nature in their bid to make novel therapeutics?