Department Chair & Professor

Samuel H. Preston Endowed Term Professor in the Social Sciences

Department Chair

Office: 322 Claudia Cohen Hall
Mondays 1:30-3:00 or by appointment



Curriculum Vitæ

Beth Linker is the Samuel H. Preston Endowed Term 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, disability, health care policy, and gender. She is the author of War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America (Chicago, 2011) which went on to be featured in 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 MedicineThe Boston GlobeThe Huffington PostThe Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and The American Journal of Public Health. 

Linker's newest book, Slouch: Posture Panic in Modern America (Princeton University Press, 2024), is a historical consideration of how poor posture became a dreaded pathology in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. By World War I, public health officials claimed that 80% of Americans suffered from postural abnormalities, setting into motion wellness programs and fitness initiatives intended to stem the slouching epidemic. What makes this epidemic unique is that, in the absence of a communicable contagion, it was largely driven by a cultural intolerance of disabled bodies, with more purist notions of ableness taking hold for much of the twentieth century. For this project, Linker has received grants from The American Council of Learned Societies, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Institutes of Health, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

In addition to her position in the Department of the History of Science, Linker is a core faculty member in Penn's Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. 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 Distinguished Teaching, the university's highest teaching honor. 

Research Interests

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.

Selected Work

"Toward a History of Ableness," All of Us, The Disability History Association's blog (June 1, 2021).

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).

"Resuscitating the ‘Great Doctor’: The Career of Biography in Medical History,” In Thomas Söderqvist, ed., Poetics of Biography in Science, Technology, and Medicine (Aldershoot: Ashgate Press, 2007).

"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)



Professor, Medical Ethics and Health Policy

Core Faculty in Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

Graduate Group, Department of History

Graduate Group, School of Nursing

Teaching Fields

History of medicine, the body, surgery, and disability
American health policy
Public Health
Gender and health
History and sociology of medicalization

Courses Taught

Cane and Able: A History of Disability

Gender and Health

Snip and Tuck: A History of Surgery

American Health Policy


Faculty Bookshelf