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Mary E. Fissell

MARY E. FISSELL, Ph.D., is a professor of history of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, with appointments in the History of Science and Technology and History departments. She’s a historian of medicine interested in how ordinary people in the past lived in their bodies. Everyone is born, gets sick, and dies. Those moments are biological, but they are experienced in ways that are specific to time and place. Her focus is on pre-modern medicine, the centuries when most people assume that medicine had little to offer. On the contrary. Healers of all kinds offered sufferers a range of care that we have largely forgotten about. What happens at the bedside is so much more than technology, and makes for powerful histories.

Dr. Fissell is currently writing a trade book on the long history of abortion, from antiquity to antibiotics, and has just finished a manuscript on the history of sex education before the twentieth century, when it began to be taught in schools. She’s also the author of Vernacular Bodies (Oxford, 2004), a book about how ordinary people understood the processes of reproduction in early modern England in relation to sweeping social changes, and numerous scholarly articles.

Dr. Fissell received her B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote her dissertation in the History and Sociology department under the direction of Charles Rosenberg. She joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1992, and has served as the first director of the department’s online program and as editor of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Dr. Fissell was a lecturer and research associate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

She lives in the city, where she raised her son, now a fashion designer. In her spare time she’s an artist and metalsmith and enjoys spending time taming the jungle she refers to as her garden.