Who is an American? Stories of invention and inventors have played a surprising role in answering that question throughout United States history, as the United States has continually celebrated itself as an inventive nation. In a history that reaches from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the immigration debates of the present, Professor Swanson explains how inventive ability became central to U.S. national identity as Americans simultaneously built the world’s first modern democracy and first modern patent system. When both full citizenship rights and most patents were granted only to white men, Swanson traces how the patent office became a source of political tools as white women suffragists and Black civil rights activists used patents granted to their group members to demonstrate their ability to vote and perform the other duties of citizenship. This history did not end when women earned the right to vote in 1920, or with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but rather continues to the present, as the United States continues to celebrate American ingenuity while debating who should be permitted to become citizens.
Trained in biochemistry, law, and the history of science, Kara W. Swanson researches and writes about the historical intersections among law, science, medicine, and technology in the United States, with attention to the regulation of reproduction and issues of race, gender and sexuality. Her scholarship has won awards from the Law & Society Association, the Society for the History of Technology and the History of Science Society, and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Mellon Foundation. Her first book, Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk and Sperm in Modern America, is a history of property in the human body, as understood through the 20th century history of bankable body products. Her book-in-progress is tentatively titled Inventing Citizens: Race, Gender, and Patents. Dr. Swanson is Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of History at Northeastern University in Boston.