Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America

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During the past several decades, the fetus has been diversely represented in political debates, medical textbooks and journals, personal memoirs and autobiographies, museum exhibits and mass media, and civil and criminal law. Ourselves Unborn argues that the meanings people attribute to the fetus are not based simply on biological fact or theological truth, but are in fact strongly influenced by competing definitions of personhood and identity, beliefs about knowledge and authority, and assumptions about gender roles and sexuality. In addition, these meanings can be shaped by dramatic historical change: over the course of the twentieth century, medical and technological changes made fetal development more comprehensible, while political and social changes made the fetus a subject of public controversy. Moreover, since the late nineteenth century, questions about how fetal life develops and should be valued have frequently intersected with debates about the authority of science and religion, and the relationship between the individual and society. In examining the contested history of fetal meanings, Sara Dubow brings a fresh perspective to these vital debates.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dubow offers up an important contribution to the field, forcing the reader to contend both with why the fetus is such a fascinating topic for investigation and the deeper social tensions expressed in each conversation about the objects." —Journal of the History of Medicine

"The great strength of this book is the author's wide-angle lens on the human fetus across more than a century of American culture and politics. Sara Dubow offers a thoroughly researched, elegantly written, and comprehensive biography of the unborn. Readers interested in the history of medicine, science, and technology, as well as the history of women's health and reproduction, will find much to savor here." —Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Dubow's history of the fetus as symbol is a major addition to our history of politics, gender, the body, and reproduction in America. To understand American politics and culture since the nineteenth century requires grasping American's long standing interest in the unborn and the many uses of the concept of fetus. Dubow gives the unknowable "unborn" a history, thus revealing that today's fetus is a construction that grew out of specific political circumstances." —Journal of American History

"[I]lluminating, even gripping...Dubow has provided an indispensable contribution to US political thought." —Women's Review of Books

"A nuanced analysis...Dubow's work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of fetal history...This work will quickly become a standard in the field. Dubow places fetal history within a broad historical context that makes the book valuable to scholars interested in twentieth-century gender, race, politics, and medicine." —American Historical Review

"Dubow's book is a reminder of the moral dilemmas, the politicisation and the sometimes shameful decisions that have been taken over the years.This careful book allows the reader to navigate a course through highly-politicised waters."—The Economist

"Provocative" — Slate

"Splendidly informative." — Commonweal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195323436
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/27/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,003,470
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Dubow is Assistant Professor of History at Williams College.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Fetal Stories
Ch 1: Discovering Fetal Life, 1870s-1920s
Ch 2: Interpreting Fetal Bodies, 1930s-1970s
Ch 3: Defining Fetal Personhood, 1973-1976
Ch 4: Defending Fetal Rights: 1970s-1990s
Ch 5: Debating Fetal Pain, 1984-2007
Epilogue: Fetal Meanings

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