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Jesse Olszynko-Gryn

Wellcome Trust Research Fellow

Director of Studies for HPS at St John's College

I am a social and cultural historian of modern medicine, especially in twentieth-century Britain. My research and teaching interests are broad, but cluster around the topics of medicine, gender, technology, and the media, especially film. Lately, I have been studying the unresolved controversy over the use and regulation of sex hormones in pregnancy.

My book, A Woman's Right to Know: A History of Pregnancy Testing in Britain, will recover the contested rise of a controversial and little-studied technology from around 1900 to the present. It will show how the demand for pregnancy testing shifted from doctors to women, first as patients and then as consumers. It will also help to open up a new topic for the history of biomedicine—the laboratory and home diagnostics industry.

Linked to this book project, I am collaborating with historians around Europe on the contested history of oral pregnancy test drugs. I have reported on this initiative - in The Guardian, History and Policy and Perceptions of Pregnancy - and acted as historical consultant for a recently broadcast television documentary. I also organised a conference in an effort to impact the ongoing UK government inquiry that last year requested my PhD thesis, completed in 2014, as evidence. 

With Patrick Ellis and Caitjan Gainty, I am co-editing a special issue of the British Journal for the History of Science on the theme of Reproduction on Film. With Caroline Rusterholz, I am co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History on Reproductive Politics in France and Britain

I have a longstanding interest in cinema, which I often incorporate into my research, teaching and public engagement. The evening of short silent films and live music I curated in Cambridge, in March 2016, as part of the series Sex, Secrets and Lies, was recently reprised for the Canterbury Festival.

Previously, I completed a PhD and postdoc as part of the Generation to Reproduction project and worked on the history of population control at McGill University's Department of Social Studies of Medicine and with the Bremen-based Population Knowledge Network.

My research, excerpts of which can be found in the MaMSIE blog and Wellcome History magazine, has featured on BBC Radio 4 and Public Radio Exchange. I am on the editorial board of Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online.


'The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain', Women's History Review, in press

'Malthus at the movies: science, cinema, and activism around Z.P.G. and Soylent Green', with Patrick Ellis, Cinema Journal, in press

'Thin blue lines: Clearblue and the rise of pregnancy testing in British cinema and television', British Journal for the History of Science, in press

'Technologies of contraception and abortion', and 'Frog pregnancy test', in Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present, edited by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming and Lauren Kassell, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, in press

'Film lessons: early cinema for historians of science', essay review of Devices of Curiosity by Oliver Gaycken and The Shape of Spectatorship by Scott Curtis, British Journal for the History of Science, 49, 2016, pp. 279-286

'Contraceptive technologies', in Twentieth Century Population Thinking: A Critical Reader in Primary Sources, edited by the Population Knowledge Network, London: Routledge, 2015, pp. 172-208

'Laparoscopy as a technology of population control: a use-centered history of surgical sterilization', in A World of Populations: The Production, Transfer, and Application of Demographic Knowledge in the Twentieth Century in Transnational Perspective, edited by Heinrich Hartmann and Corinna R. Unger, New York: Berghahn Books, 2014, pp. 147-177

'The demand for pregnancy testing: the Aschheim-Zondek reaction, diagnostic versatility, and laboratory services in 1930s Britain', Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 47, 2014, pp. 233-247

'The theory of epidemiologic transition: the origins of a citation classic', with George Weisz, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 65, 2010, pp. 287-326

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn

Cambridge historians of medicine and biology are using a Wellcome strategic award to take a concerted approach to the history of reproduction.