Profile: Devon Stillwell

Postdoctoral Fellow

Devon is at Hopkins on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship. She completed her PhD in history, and a diploma in Gender Studies and Feminist Research, at McMaster University in 2013. Her dissertation, “Interpreting the Genetic Revolution: A History of Genetic Counseling in the United States, 1930-2000” analyzed the evolution of prenatal genetic counseling in relation to histories of eugenics, genetics, bioethics, medical professionalization processes, and reproductive and disability rights. She is currently researching the history of Huntington’s disease, cancer, and genetic counseling for adult-onset conditions. She is also preparing a book manuscript on genetic counseling and the role of medical genetics in shaping 20th century American biopolitics and understandings of biological risk. Devon’s work has appeared in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine and Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, and she has a forthcoming article in Social History of Medicine. She will be teaching a course on Women, Health, and Medicine in Modern America at JHU in Spring 2015.

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NoteStreams By Devon Stillwell

How Our Obsession with Hereditary Cancers Started

Featured on Time’s May 27 2013 cover, titled “The Angelina Effect,” the actress was celebrated for promoting awareness about the connection between genetics, risk and health to the extent that doctors anticipated being overwhelmed by a “stampede of women” requesting genetic testing for their BRCA status. The discovery of the BRCA genes (and the resulting genetic tests) in the early 1990s is often touted as the watershed moment when genetics and heredity became important to cancer. This is not, however, the case. We did not suddenly recognize that some cancers are hereditary once we could test for gene mutations.

Category: Health

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