Gertrude Fraser

Associate Professor

Ph.D. John Hopkins University 1988


Medical anthropology; reproduction, the body and sexuality; race, gender and science; African American ethnography; applied methodology, historical anthropology.

In my study of African American traditional midwifery, I worked in the historical archives to explore early southern medical narratives of obstetric progress and eugenic surveillance using these official texts as a counterpoint to older African American women's domestic dialogues about birthing and the body. My collaboration with colleagues in the school of medicine focuses on the social and cultural dimensions of the Human Genome Project. Here I am particularly committed to unraveling the threads of the public response to new genetic technologies and therapeutics. I do this first by considering the specific publics for whom genetic science has meaning, and then move to some broader understanding of "the public." A relatively new research agenda focuses on rural mental health among African American and poor White communities in the south. The goal is to get at the ethnographically complex set of paradigms that undergird these groups' explanatory models of mental illness and treatment. With this project, I see a more direct involvement in the potential policy issues that will influence mental health delivery programs to rural southern communities. Altogether the engine that drives my anthropology is an interdisciplinary one. I want the work to dictate the avenues of inquiry and in that vein I encourage my students to look for the theoretical and methodological connections where they find them. The important thing is to pay attention.

Geographically, I am an Americanist with a strong emphasis on African American communities in the south. More broadly speaking, by training and personal inclination, my goal is to conduct long-term comparative research in African American communities across the New World diaspora. I am just at the exploratory stage, therefore, of a new field project in the English speaking Caribbean.

Selected Publications

1998 - African American Midwifery in the South: Dialogues of Birth, Race, and Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1995 - Modern Minds, Modern Bodies: Reproductive Change in an African-American Community. In Conceiving the New World Order, the Global Politics of Reproduction. Rayna Rapp and Faye Ginsburg, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1994 - Local Knowledge and Rural Mental Health Reform. Community Mental Health Journal 30:132-157.

1991 - Race, Class and Difference in Hortense Powdermaker's After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South. Journal of Anthropological Research Winter 47 (2):403-415.