"Pests, Parasites, Partners & Poisons: The Metaphors and Molecules that Frame Interspecies Interactions"
Friday, May 3, 2019 - 3:35pm
Nicholson 155
Rachel Mason Dentinger
Undergraduate Studies
University of Utah

Just as interactions between organisms shape evolutionary history, so too do they shape the history that we want to recount as scholars. And, in the history of science, as in evolutionary history, the traces of those exchanges are often difficult to detect or have long since disappeared. In this talk, I will explore some of the ways that historians uncover and understand the roles that nonhuman organisms have played in the history of biology and medicine. At the center of this talk is the tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus, and I use signals of this organism’s agency to reconstruct how it has shaped our world, by joining its fate to that of larger host organisms—in multiple ways—and  transforming their lives in the process. I close by applying this mode of inquiry to two other cases of interspecies entanglement, and I ask how scholars’ ideas about historical agency may align with biologists’ ideas of ecological and evolutionary agency. I argue for the value of taking into account both our metaphorical concepts, which are disrupted and rearranged by our encounters with nonhumans, and the sometimes surprising lines of material evidence, like pathological specimens and molecular analyses, that represent extensions of nonhuman agency in the history of biology and medicine.