Sex, Gender, and the Human Genome

Wednesday, 28 October 2015 - 5:00pm6:30pm

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

Sex, Gender, and the Human Genome

Sarah S. Richardson

John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University

Epigenetics, the study of how environmental cues alter gene expression, offers a rich and provocative framework for understanding the plasticity of the human body. Sarah Richardson, author of Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome, reveals how the epigenetic movement is challenging common notions about sex and gender, envisioning them as flexible, diverse, and responsive to social and environmental influences.


Sara S. Richardson is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University. She holds joint appointments in the History of Science department and the Committee of Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

With a BA in Philosophy from Columbia, and an MA and PhD in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford, Richardson is a scholar of both the history and the philosophy of science. Her work focuses on race and gender in scientific study related to the life sciences, particularly genetics.

She wrote the bestselling book Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome, which explores the history of genetic theories of sex differences in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and how X and Y chromosomes became the pillars of gendered genetic understanding over the course of the twentieth century. The book was named one of the top ten science and technology books by The Guardian in 2013. She is also the co-editor of Postgenomics and of Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age.

Richardson's current research, provisionally titled The Maternal Mystique, looks at the history of maternal effects research, a growing field in medicine, public health, psychology, evolutionary biology, and genomics. This research seeks to determine the influences of a mother's behaviour and physiology on her offspring's future health and development. Richardson's work will explore the relation between the growth of this type of scientific research and changing conceptions of motherhood, health citizenship, and genetic determinism in the twentieth century.

Richardson was a Hrdy Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the recipient of the Philosophy of Science Women's Caucus Prize in 2010.

Cosponsored by the Department of History and Sociology of Science and Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality, and Women.

Photo by Tony Rinaldo