Doctoral Candidate

Entered 2016


M.Ed. Vanderbilt University

B.A. Anderson University


Leah is at work on two research projects. Her dissertation examines the management and construction of blindness in early-to-mid twentieth-century America from the New Deal to the end of World War II, focusing on the many imbrications between technical knowledge systems and federal policy toward the blind. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the constitution of blindness in America, this dissertation puts into conversation pivotal legislative moments for the blind like the passing of the Social Security Act of 1935, specifically Title X: Grants to States for Aid to the Blind, and the Barden LaFollette Act (Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments) with critical stakeholders like policymakers, social researchers, illumination engineers, ophthalmologists, and statisticians. This project expands the study of how expert knowledge became a tool for the management and production of disability, blindness in this case, for an array of professionals and even those with faulty sight themselves. Samples' argues that we can use these historically situated scientific networks to draw the links between technical knowledge forms, legal infrastructures, and disability. For this project, Samples has received grants from the Linda Hall Library, the American Historical Association, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the University of Alabama.

 Her second project looks at the history of plastic surgery in postwar America with a particular focus on Dr. Alma Dea Morani's early professional career as the first woman plastic surgeon as a case study to better understand how surgical classifications, techniques, and technologies have expressed hierarchical ideas of gendered value.

Before coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Samples studied at Vanderbilt University, completing her M.Ed. in Community Development and Action and a graduate certificate in Medicine, Health, and Society. Between her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Technology Access Center. This organization develops and distributes assistive technology solutions and training to people with disabilities.

Research Interests

disability history; the history of technology, infrastructures, and maintenance; the history of the body; the history of medicine; the history of U.S. public welfare; the history of quantification and statistics; critical disability studies; gender studies

Courses Taught

STSC 160: The Information Age, Spring 2019 (Grader)

HSOC 150: American Health Policy, Fall 2018 (Teaching Assistant)

HSOC 010: Health and Societies: Global Perspectives, Spring 2018 (Teaching Assistant)

HSOC 002: Medicine in History, Fall 2017 (Teaching Assistant)

Faculty Bookshelf