Life on ice: Frozen blood and biological variation in a genomic age, 1950–2010

Joanna M Radin, University of Pennsylvania


Natural historical and anthropological collectors have long engaged in work described as "salvage"—the attempt to metaphorically freeze those artifacts, traditions, and languages in danger of disappearing into the past. In the Cold War era, justifications for salvage were re-articulated as new techniques emerged that changed how such materials could be collected and maintained. The metaphor of freezing had become a reality in practice: new access to technologies of mobile and long-term cold storage—including mechanical refrigeration, dry ice, and liquid nitrogen—supported the accumulation of thousands of vials of bodily extracts collected in the field and their indefinite preservation in the lab. This dissertation examines the conditions of possibility that led pieces of the Xavante and Yanomami in the Amazon, Pacific Islanders, and members of many other supposedly primitive communities to colonize the freezers of the biomedical lab, where they persist—in some cases—as contested resources for the population research on biological variation. I situate these changes in collection practice in the history of the International Biological Program (IBP), a large-scale effort to assess biological baselines in the mid-twentieth century. I devote particular attention to the activities of IBP-affiliated human biologists in order to provide a commentary on the shifting status of the human as an object and subject of knowledge since World War II. I also critically evaluate the archival project that supports historical knowledge making in both history of science and the historical life sciences.

Subject Area

Science history

Recommended Citation

Radin, Joanna M, "Life on ice: Frozen blood and biological variation in a genomic age, 1950–2010" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509395.