CRE2-SHC Partnership | The Last Biomedical Frontier: Indigenous Health and Settler Colonialism in Cold War Alaska

January 24, 2022
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm

In the aftermath of World War II, Alaska emerged as a crucial outpost for national defense and as a destination for growing numbers of white American settlers. As American public health officials, physicians, biomedical researchers, nurses, and technicians flocked northward—drawn by the new job opportunities that accompanied accelerated settler colonialism and militarization—they consistently positioned Alaska as a model for the “Third World.” They found opportunities to carve out new forms of expertise, test novel treatments and experimental interventions, and build new bodies of biomedical knowledge. And they did so with an eye towards the myriad ways that Alaska could serve as a resource, laboratory, or metric for elsewhere. Biomedicine took on many different roles in support of American empire, but the use of Alaska Native communities as proving grounds remained constant. This talk will explore invocations of Alaska as a model for the “Third World” and in doing so will map the connections between settler colonial biomedicine in Alaska and American imperial ambitions overseas.


Tess Lanzarotta is a historian whose research is at the intersection of the history of science and medicine, Indigenous history, and science and technology studies. While at Northwestern, Tess will be working on the manuscript for her first book project, Unsettling Biomedicine: Indigenous Health and American Empire in Postwar Alaska, which explores the connections between settler colonial biomedicine in Alaska and American imperial medicine overseas. Unsettling Biomedicine will also explain how controlling healthcare and overseeing biomedical research came to be important aspects of Alaska Native sovereignty in the second half of the twentieth century. Tess is developing a second book project on the history of the Indian Health Service from its founding in 1955 to the present day. Before coming to Northwestern, she was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. 

This virtual event is part of the Klopsteg Lecture series at Northwestern University and part of the CRE2-SHC Partnership.

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