Sarah S. Richardson is Assistant Professor of the History of Science and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. from the Program in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University. A historian and philosopher of science, her research focuses on race and gender in the biosciences and on the social dimensions of scientific knowledge. She has broad interests and expertise in the history of molecular biology, biomedicine, and genetics, the philosophy of science, science and technology studies, and feminist science studies.
Richardson’s book, Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome traces the history of genetic theories of sex differences from 1900 to the present. Sex Itself demonstrates how the human X and Y chromosomes became the pillars of a particular way of thinking about biological sex: as an unalterable binary encoded at the level of the genome. Richardson shows how, over the course of the twentieth century, the X and Y became gendered objects of scientific knowledge, influencing theories and explanations in human biology and medicine. In the book’s concluding chapters, Richardson develops a critical framework for conceptualizing genetic sex differences as we enter the postgenomic age.
Her current book project, with the working title The Maternal Mystique, theorizes and situates maternal effects research within the twentieth-century life sciences. The term “maternal effects” refers to the influences of a mother’s behavior, exposures, and physiology on her offspring’s future health and development. Once marginalized, maternal effects research blossomed in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Today, maternal effects research is an expanding field in medicine, public health, psychology, evolutionary biology, and genomics. The book will examine the intersection between the rise of maternal effects research in the life sciences and changing conceptions of motherhood, health citizenship, and genetic determinism in the twentieth century.
Richardson also maintains an active line of research on race and genetics. Her 2008 edited volume, Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age (with Koenig and Lee), framed an interdisciplinary discussion about the implications of human genome research for conceptions of racial difference, identity, and health inequalities. Her article, “Race and IQ in the Postgenomic Age” (Biosocieties, 2011) profiles recent research on the possibility that gene variants implicated in brain development, cognition, and mental health may have different frequencies in different racial and ethnic populations. She urges open and critical discussion about the community standards for this research at the intersection of genomics and neuroscience.
Originally from Billings, Montana, Richardson loves hiking, gardening, baking bread, and experimenting with fermentation. She has recently taken up beekeeping (with little success).