skip to primary navigationskip to content

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn

Affiliated Scholar

I am a historian of modern science, technology and medicine at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. My research and teaching at Strathclyde's Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH) explores the role of film and other media in the production, communication and contestation of scientific and medical knowledge. This grows out of my interest in moving images of biological reproduction (conception, embryological development, birth) in humans and other species.

My first book, A Woman's Right to Know: Pregnancy Testing in Twentieth-Century Britain, reconstructs for the first time the remarkable transformation of pregnancy testing from an esoteric diagnostic technology to a commonplace of everyday life. My research for this book, made possible by the Generation to Reproduction project, has featured on Making History, the Mother podcast, and BBC Ideas.

Linked to this book project, I am collaborating with researchers around Europe on the contested history of Primodos, a 'hormone pregnancy test' that may have caused birth defects akin to those caused by thalidomide. I have reported on this initiative—in The Guardian and History and Policyand acted as historical consultant for a Sky News television documentary that screened in Parliament. I also organised a conference in an effort to inform the UK government inquiry that in 2015 requested my PhD thesis as evidence. More recently I was invited to give evidence to the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, chaired by Baroness Cumberlege.

I am on the editorial board of Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online. Please contact me at jesse dot olszynko-gryn at strath dot ac dot uk.


'The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain', Women's History Review, 28 (2019), pp. 869–894.

'A historical argument for regulatory failure in the case of Primodos and other "hormone pregnancy tests"', with Eira Bjørvik, Merle Weßel, Solveig Jülich and Cyrille Jean, Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online, 6 (2018), pp. 34-44.

'Technologies of contraception and abortion', in Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, edited by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming and Lauren Kassell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 535-551. [PDF file]

'Malthus at the movies: science, cinema, and activism around Z.P.G. and Soylent Green', with Patrick Ellis, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, 58 (2018), pp. 47-69. [PDF file]

'Thin blue lines: Clearblue and the drama of pregnancy testing in British cinema and television', British Journal for the History of Science, 50 (2017), pp. 495-520.

'"A machine for recreating life": an introduction to reproduction on film', with Patrick  Ellis,  British Journal for the History of Science, 50 (2017), pp. 383-409.

'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. [PDF file]

'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. Spanish translation: 'La demanda de test de embarazo: La reacción de Aschheim-Zondek, versatilidad diagnóstica y servicios de laboratorio en Gran Bretaña, en la década de 1930', in Cecilia Rustoyburu and Yolanda Eraso (eds.), Cuerpos hormonales. Intersecciones entre laboratorio, clínica y sociedad (Eudem: Mar del Plata, 2018), pp. 91-131.

'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. [PDF file]

'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. [PDF file]

Special issues

Reproductive Politics in Twentieth-Century France and Britain (co-edited with Caroline Rusterholz), a special issue of Medical History, 63 (April 2019). [PDF file of introduction]

Reproduction on Film, a special issue of British Journal for the History of Science (Vol. 50, No. 3, Sept. 2017), co-edited with Patrick Elis and Caitjan Gainty. Read a review.

Short essays and reviews

'Pregnancy testing with frogs', in Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, edited by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming and Lauren Kassell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). [PDF file]

'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. [PDF file]

Review of High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2016), The Guardian, 23 March 2016.

'When pregnancy tests were toads: The Xenopus test in the early NHS', Wellcome History, 51 (2013), pp. 1-3. [PDF file]

Review of Call the Midwife, Series 1 (BBC1, 2012), Viewpoint, 98, p. 13. [PDF file]

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.