Beth Linker is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of the History and Sociology of Science. Her research and teaching interests include the history of science and medicine, the body, health policy, and disability. She is the author of War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America (Chicago, 2011) which went on to to become the subject of a Ric Burns documentary titled A Debt of Honor in 2015. Linker is also the co-editor of Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging (Penn Press, 2014). Her award-winning scholarship has also appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, The Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and The American Journal of Public Health.
Linker's next book, Slouch: The Rise and Fall of the American Posture Sciences, explores the rise of non-communicable epidemics in the twentieth century, using posture as a case study. For centuries, bodily comportment was a matter of etiquette and social mores. Not until the 19th century did posture become something to be measured, standardized, and pathologized. By the early 20th century, many experts believed that the nation was living through a poor posture epidemic that affected 80 percent of the population. The book demonstrates how the slouching epidemic gained scientific and cultural legitimacy among experts and the wider public, and how it would later serve as a model for explaining the prevalence of other non-contagious conditions, such as the obesity epidemic. Linker is also researching another book, Making the Cut: Surplus Surgery in America, a cultural and medical history of how and why the U.S. has had one of the highest surgical rates in the world.
Linker's research has been funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. She has held fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Barbara Bates Center for the History of Nursing, and the Penn Humanities Forum. In the spring of 2017, she was awarded the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguised Teaching, the university's highest teaching honor.
Social and cultural history of U.S. medicine and surgery in the 19th and 20th centuries, disability history, war studies, gender studies, as well as the history of bioethics, sexuality, and health care policy.
Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Theory, and the Body, co-edited with Nancy Hirschmann (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2015).
War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).
"The Great War and Modern Health Care,” The New England Journal of Medicine (2016).
“Teamwork: Metaphors and Myths of Equality in the Health-Care Setting,” Nursing History Review(2016).
“Integrating Disability, Transforming Disease History: Tuberculosis and Its Past” with Emily Abel, in Civil Disabilities (2015).
“Half of Man: the Symbolism and Science of Paraplegic Impotence in World War II America,” with Whitney Laemmli, Osiris (2015).
"Beware of the One-Armed Soldier," Public Books (February 2013).
"A Dangerous Curve: The Role of History in America's Scoliosis Screening Programs," American Journal of Public Health (April 2012).
"Strength and Science: Gender, Physiotherapy, and Medicine in Early-Twentieth-Century America" J. of Women's History (Fall 2005)
Documentary Films and Lectures:
“A Debt of Honor: The History of Disabled Veterans in America” PBS, Ric Burns (2015)
"What's the Matter with American Exceptionalism?" 60-second lecture (2011)
Associate Fellow in the Center for Bioethics
Core Faculty in Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies
Graduate Group, Department of History
Graduate Group, School of Nursing
History of medicine, the body, surgery, and disability
American health policy
Gender and health
History and sociology of medicalization
HSOC 002: Medicine in History
HSOC 042: Snip and Tuck
HSOC 216: Gender and Health
HSSC 505: HSS Seminar