OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jessica Wang

Portrait of Jessica Wang
Image Credit: Catherine Caddigan

Jessica Wang works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. history and has pursued a wide range of interests related to the history of science and medicine, U.S. political and intellectual history, political theory, urban and social history, and the history of U.S. foreign relations. Her recently completed book manuscript, "Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers: Rabies, Medicine, and Society in an American Metropolis, 1840–1920," uses the social history of a dreaded disease to explore urban social geography; domesticated animals in the nineteenth-century city; physicians' self-fashioning and the role of pathological anatomy in the construction of medical identity; the institutional contexts of medicine, disease, and public health; and the ties between the public-private relationship, urban governance, and American state building. This research also rests on Wang's long-term engagement with questions about the social and political contexts of knowledge, ideas, and public authority, which she has also addressed through studies of Cold War American science, science and democratic political theory, social science and New Deal political economy, internationalism and U.S. foreign relations, and social knowledge, state power, and American globalism. She will continue to develop these themes in two new research projects: a study of tropical agriculture and American empire in Hawai‘i from 1900 to 1940, and a broader examination of interimperial collusion, American power, and global order in the early twentieth century. Wang's publications include American Science in an Age of Anxiety (1999) as well as articles in the Journal of American History, Isis, Osiris, the Journal of Policy History, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, and other forums.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In an era of Brexit, Trumpism, and shifting centers of global power, how should we think about the nature and possibilities of U.S. power in an unstable world order? This lecture looks at the interwar period of the first half of the twentieth century in order to contemplate how Americans thought about and navigated an uncertain global environment during the long aftermath of World War I, as international relations unraveled and the world fell apart in the 1920s and 1930s.
What can urban dog-catching tell us about American politics? The history of canine animal control in New York City from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century shows how a fluid public-private boundary, which allows ostensibly private organizations to carry out public governmental functions, constitutes a normal part of American governance. This world of blended public-private relations has persisted alongside the twentieth-century expansion of the state and continues to shape the exercise of public policy today.
Nineteenth-century rabies remedies ran the gamut from chemical treatments to herbal remedies, folk treatments such as the application of madstones, and alternative therapies derived from the water cure. This lecture will decode the workings of nineteenth-century therapeutics and explore their cultural underpinnings. Rabies remedies shed light on the challenges of specialized knowledge within a democratic political culture, problems of trust and discerning judgment in an urbanizing world of strangers, and the trade in plant derivatives that tied medical therapeutics to global imperialism.
In 1885, Louis Pasteur announced his astounding discovery of a method for post-exposure rabies vaccination. Pasteur's method of preventive hydrophobia treatment soon arrived in the United States, but introduction did not proceed smoothly. The history of Pasteurian rabies vaccination in New York City and the respective fates of different institutional approaches--philanthropic, industrial, and governmental--shed light on the importance of the early pharmaceutical industry in transferring Pasteur's technique to the United States, and the relationship between private institutions and public health provision in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
When officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s experiment station in Honolulu and the territorial government’s Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry contemplated the agricultural tasks that they faced, they sought nothing less than wholesale biological management of the islands. Irrigation, land management, and forest preservation aimed at regulating the islands’ water supply. Quarantine and inspection regimes sought to contain the threat of invasive species. When unwanted insect travelers thwarted human oversight, the USDA’s station deployed chemical means of control, while the territorial government’s Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry dispatched entomologists to distant places, particularly in other colonial regions of the world, to gather parasites that might combat insect pests. The different efforts to manage the island ecosystem in Hawai‘i reflected not just the biological basis of territorial rule, but also its embeddedness in intra-imperial, inter-imperial, and international relationships.