Monday workshop
Monday, March 14, 2022 - 3:30pm

392 Cohen Hall

Unsettling Biomedicine: Indigenous Health and American Empire in Postwar Alaska

In the aftermath of World War II, Alaska emerged as a crucial outpost for national defense, a destination for white settlers, and a new biomedical frontier. American military officials worried about the possibility of a Soviet invasion through the Arctic. But their desire to prepare American servicemen for cold weather combat would enable an invasion of another kind altogether. Public health officials, on the other hand, felt that poor health among Alaska Native peoples posed a threat to white settlers and to the economic development of the Alaska Territory. As the entwined processes of settler colonialism and militarization accelerated, infrastructure to support expanded public health surveillance and biomedical research was expanded. An army of biomedical personnel—including public health officials, researchers, physicians, laboratory technicians, and nurses—flocked northward. They found opportunities to carve out new forms of expertise, test novel treatments, experiment with public health interventions, and build new bodies of biomedical knowledge. They also found themselves in what they perceived as a pocket of the “Third World” located within the borders of the United States and, most often, pursued endeavors that they felt would be useful and consequential for American empire overseas. Biomedicine took on many different roles in support of American imperial ambitions in the postwar decades, but the use of Alaska as a biomedical proving ground remained constant. This paper will explore invocations of Alaska as a model for the “Third World” and, in doing so, map the connections between settler colonial biomedicine in Alaska and American empire more broadly