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Susan Lawrence

Professor, Department Head


During my career as a historian of medicine, I have worked on projects ranging from hospitals and medical education in 18th century London, to a digital project on Washington, D.C., during the Civil War (see Civil War Washington at, to the effect of HIPAA and research ethics on claims about privacy rights for the dead.  Now I am writing a book on the history of whole body donation in the United States with Susan E. Lederer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Why did Americans – starting with an eccentric few – decide they wanted to donate their corpses to medical schools? By the early 1950s, enough Americans had asked to do this that anatomy departments had to accommodate this unexpected bodily altruism. Over the next three decades, donated bodies slowly replaced the bodies of people who died with no one to claim them for burial. That legal supply had, in its turn, replaced the 19th century practice of dissecting corpses stolen from graves. From the horror of body-snatching to willing gift-giving – what a remarkable transition in attitudes towards, and access to, the dead.


At the University of Tennessee, I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of medicine, in addition to World Civilizations since 1500. Before coming to the University of Tennessee, I was on the history faculty at The Ohio State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Iowa, and Ball State University.


  • MA and Ph.D., The Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Toronto, 1985
  • BA, Pomona College, Mathematics, 1977

Selected Publications

  • Privacy and the Past: Research, Law, Archives, Ethics (Rutgers University Press, 2016)
  • Civil War Washington: History, Place and Digital Scholarship, editor (University of Nebraska Press, 2015)
  • “Anatomy, Histology and Cytology” in John Pickstone and Peter Bowler, eds. The Modern Life and Earth Sciences, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 6. (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • “Access Anxiety: HIPAA and Historical Research,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 62 (2007), 422-460; DOI: jrl048.
  • “Iowa Physicians: Legitimacy, Institutions and the Practice of Medicine. Part 3: Dealing with Poverty and Defending Autonomy, 1928-1950,” Annals of Iowa 66 (2007), 1-74.
  • “Iowa Physicians: Legitimacy, Institutions and the Practice of Medicine. Part 2: Putting Science into Practice, 1887-1928,” Annals of Iowa 63 (Winter 2004), 1-62
  • “Iowa Physicians: Legitimacy, Institutions and the Practice of Medicine. Part 1: Establishing a Professional Identity, 1833-1886,” Annals of Iowa 62 (Spring 2003), 1-47
  • "Beyond the grave -- The Use and Meaning of Human Body Parts: A Historical Introduction," in Robert Weir, ed. Stored Tissue Samples: Ethical, Legal, and Public Policy Implications (University of Iowa Press, 1998).
  • Charitable Knowledge: Hospital Practitioners and Pupils in Eighteenth Century London (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Contact Information

  • 915 Volunteer Ave
    6th Floor, Dunford Hall
    Knoxville, TN 37996

  • E-mail: