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School of History

Dr Jenny Bangham


Wellcome University Award Lecturer



I am a historian of medicine and the biomedical sciences, and I study how medical and research communities have produced scientific knowledge about human life. My current Wellcome-funded project examines the history of genetic, sickle cell, and thalassaemia counselling in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Like my first book, this project is tied to my broader aim to better understand how genetics has become understood as such a powerful authority on human health, history and identity. My research connects to the clusters of expertise in the QM School of History on the history of medicine, science and the emotions.

Before becoming a historian, I studied and worked as a scientist, earning a PhD in biology at University College London, then working as a laboratory geneticist in Edinburgh. I completed an MPhil and PhD in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, and worked at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, before joining the School of History at Queen Mary.


Research Interests:

Blood, paper and genetics

My first book, Blood Relations: Transfusion and the Making of Human Genetics (University of Chicago Press, 2020) was the result of an eight-year project to trace the close and surprising connections between the infrastructures of blood transfusion and the development of human genetics. By focusing on materials, practices, and (racialized and gendered) power relations, it is a history that puts blood, bodies and bureaucracy at center stage.

The History of Science Society awarded Blood Relations its 2022 Susan J. Levinson Prize, for a book in the history of life sciences and natural historyThe Société de Physique et d’Histoire Naturelle (SPHN) de Genève awarded my PhD dissertation its2014 Marc-Auguste Pictet Prize, for book or dissertation in the history of science by an early career scholar. The project resulted in several collaborations, including a 14-paper special issue on postwar human population research (2014), co-edited with Soraya de Chadarevian. It was funded by the Wellcome (089652/Z/09/Z), and by theMPIWG research group, Twentieth Century Histories of Knowledge about Human Variation.


Communication, emotion and genetics

My current Wellcome-funded book project (212648/Z/18/Z) traces the history of a specific, ephemeral, talking-based, medical encounter—that is, genetic counselling. Genetic counselling has a 70-year history in the UK and Ireland; that history has been shaped by the disciplinary and gender politics of the NHS, disability rights, racial politics, and ethical and legal debates about genetic technologies. I am using oral history interviews, witness seminars, archives, and published accounts, to explore thegendered, racialized, and disciplinary politics of genetic counselling.

To further explore the contexts of ‘counselling’ practices relating to reproduction, I am working with Yuliya Hilevych and Caroline Rusterholz, to edit a special issue of the BMJ journal Medical Humanities called ‘Talking about sex and reproduction: Counselling in postwar Europe (forthcoming in 2024). To engage with narrative accounts of professionals working in reproductive health, I have collaborated with Esther Teichmann at the Royal College of Art on the Wellcome-funded ‘One Cell at a Time’, an interdisciplinary public engagement art project connected to the Human Cell Atlas initiative.


Invisibility and loss

My Wellcome-funded research fellowship on the histories of databases and living laboratory collections (200299/Z/15/Z), led to several projects on histories of loss and invisibility in science. One of this is the collaborative ‘How Collections End’, with Emma Kowal and Boris Jardine, with whom I edited the volume, ‘How Collections End: Objects and Loss in Laboratories and Museums’ (BJHS Themes, vol. 4, 2019). 

Another is the 30-chapter book Invisible Labour in Modern Science (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022), co-edited with Xan Chacko and Judith Kaplan. The essays in the book describe an array of people and practices that are concealed, eclipsed, or anonymised in accounts of scientific research. It asks: What is invisible to whom, and when does this matter? How do power structures built on hierarchies of race, gender, class, and nation frame what can be seen? When does the recovery of the ‘invisible’ serve social justice and when does it invade privacy?

Identity and rarity in biomedicine

In a collaboration with Emma Hagström Molin (Uppsala University) and Lara Keuck (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science), I run a reading group on histories of identity. This constitutes a working group within the Max Planck Research Group ‘Practices of Validation in the Biomedical Sciences’. Building on this focus, I am scoping out a larger project to trace the definition, management, and value of ‘rarity’ in biomedicine.


Bangham, J. Making the genetic counsellor in the United Kingdom, 1980—1995’, Medical Humanities (forthcoming in 2023).

Bangham, J. ‘New meanings in the archive: technological change, privacy protections and the status of sources,’ special issue of Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte [History of Science and Humanities] (2022).

Bangham, J., Chacko, X., Kaplan, J. ‘Introduction: Invisible Labour in Modern Science’, Bangham, J., Chacko, X., Kaplan, J., eds, Invisible Labour in Modern Science, Rowman and Littlefield (2022).

Bangham, J., ‘Blood, paper and invisibility in mid-century transfusion science’, in Bangham, J., Chacko, X., Kaplan, J., eds, Invisible Labour in Modern Science, Rowman and Littlefield (2022).

Bangham, J. Blood Relations: Transfusion and the Making of Human Genetics, 325pp. University of Chicago Press (2020). 

Bangham, J. ‘Living collections: Care and curation at Drosophila stock centres,’ BJHS Themes 4: 123–147 (2019). 

Jardine, B., Kowal E., Bangham, J. ‘Introduction: How Collections End’, BJHS Themes, 4: 1–27 (2019). 

Bangham, J. ‘What Is Race?: UNESCO, mass communication and human genetics in the early 1950s’, History of the Human Sciences 28, 80–107 (2015) 

Bangham, J. ‘Blood groups and human groups: Collecting and calibrating genetic data after World War Two’. Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 47, 74–86 (2014). 

Bangham, J. ‘Writing, printing, speaking: Rhesus blood-group genetics and nomenclatures in the mid-twentieth century.’ British Journal of the History of Science, 47, 335–361 (2014). 

Bangham, J. and de Charadavian, S., ‘Human heredity after 1945: Moving populations centre stage.’ Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47, 45–49 (2014).

Bangham, J. ‘Between the transfusion services and blood group research: Human genetics in Britain during the Second World War.’ Chapter in Human Heredity in the Twentieth Century, Bernd Gausemeier, Edmund Ramsden and Staffan Müller-Wille (eds), Pickering and Chatto (2013).


Histories of twentieth-century biomedicine; histories of science communication; histories of anthropology.

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