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Jesse Olszynko-Gryn

Affiliated Scholar

I am a historian of modern science, technology and medicine, especially in twentieth-century Britain. My research and teaching interests are broad, but cluster around the topics of the diagnostics, reproduction and cinema. 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: Pregnancy Testing in Twentieth-Century 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 and History and Policyand acted as historical consultant for a recently broadcast television documentary. I also organised a conference in an effort to impact a recently concluded UK government inquiry that in 2015 requested my PhD thesis as evidence.

I have a longstanding interest in cinema, which I often incorporate into my research, teaching and public engagement. 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 has featured on BBC Radio 4 and the Mother podcast. I am on the editorial board of Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online.


'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]

'The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain', Women's History Review, published online: 11 Jul 2017.

'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.

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.

'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]

'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.

'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]

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.