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Eugenic sterilization in California: from demographic analysis to digital storytelling

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From 1909 to 1979, California sterilized more than 20,000 patients in state homes and hospitals. This lecture draws from new interdisciplinary research into the history of sterilization, presenting both overarching demographic trends that illustrate the intersectional racial, gender, and diagnostic biases of compulsory reproductive surgery, and the experiences of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this medical intervention. These new findings are drawn from a dataset that I and my team created after digitizing more than 50,000 microfilm documents that had been long forgotten in the file cabinets of state agencies in Sacramento, California. This lecture asks how an in-depth interdisciplinary study of patterns and experiences of sterilization confirms and challenges historical understandings of eugenics, and highlights the value of epidemiological and demographic methods in historical analysis. The presentation also provides an overview of the digital archive we are creating that will feature data visualization and digital storytelling.

This talk is part of the Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine series.

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