Laura Harkewicz


Laura Harkewicz

B.S. Resource Management and Conservation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
M.A. American Studies, Michigan State University
Ph.D. History (Science Studies), University of California, San Diego

Office: UW1-391
Mailing Box: 358530, 18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell, WA 98011-8246


I believe we learn best by asking questions. The questions we ask are based on the meanings we give to the presented material, and this meaning is made through our individual experiences. Meaning is also made through associations that are taught, consciously and unconsciously, through education and culture. Each student brings their own layer of meaning to the classroom. My role is to help students interrogate these meanings by encouraging them to ask questions about where they come from, while, at the same time, respecting the diversity of meanings encountered. Learning is not just about uncovering meanings, but also about making new ones through interaction with people and things.

As a historian, my teaching is grounded in historical narrative, especially the voices of participants. In my courses, I provide students with the opportunity to directly interact with primary sources as well as a variety of outside sources including museum exhibits, movies, television programs, plays, newspaper and magazine articles, and campus lectures. I want my students to learn that the historical material discussed in the classroom has real world, present-day, applications. This experiential-learning will enable them to make coursework more personal and thus, more meaningful. I believe students must be active participants in their own education. It is my role to guide my students through these interactions and motivate them to formulate their own questions and critical theories by providing them with disciplinary tools and historical contexts.

Recent Courses Taught

B CORE 115 The Science and Medicine of Harry Potter
BIS 293 Atomic Dreams, Atomic Nightmares
BIS 293 Ethics in Science
BIS 293 History of Medicine
BIS 380 Bioethics
BISSTS 307 Science, Technology, & Society
BISSTS 420 Race, Gender, Science, and Medicine
HSTCMP 410 Medicine, History, and Society (UW Seattle)


My research, like my teaching, is driven by questions, and the questions I ask are driven by my diverse experiences. My interest in my dissertation topic began with my work in radiation safety and health physics where one of my tasks was to educate staff about radiation hazards. I often wondered, “Where does this information come from and how can I be sure what I am saying is true?” These experiences motivated me to learn about the history of radiation science.

My NSF-funded dissertation research focused on the medical program that resulted from the 1954 fallout exposure of over 200 Marshall Islanders from the “Bravo” hydrogen bomb test. Bravo was the largest nuclear device ever tested by the U.S. The medical program continued for over 40 years. Of particular interest to my work was how various groups, including scientists and laypeople, made use of the science involved. My primary goal was to put history of medicine in conversation with science studies. My research juxtaposed the ways program doctors and researchers framed the program’s scientific uncertainty about radiation exposure as a minimal risk, while anti-nuclear and anti-colonial activists portrayed the science as not only uncertain but in error. This portrayal of scientific error became evidence of lack of scientific objectivity resulting in claims of human experimentation.

My long-term scholarship expands on my investigations into public use of science to include ideas of health, disease, and identity. I am particularly curious about the role advocacy and advocates play in terms of identity-formation related to norms of health and disease. Currently, I am exploring the connections between health and spirituality, specifically the impact of yoga practice and philosophy on recovery from illness and self-expression.

Selected Publications

Online publication

Book reviews

  • Harkewicz, Laura.  Review of Marie Equi:  Radical Politics and Outlaw Passion, by Michael Helquist.  Pacific Northwest Quarterly Vol. 107 #2, Spring 2016.
  • Harkewicz, Laura.  Review of All the Fish in the Sea:  Maximum Sustainable Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management, by Carmel Finley.  The Pacific Circle Bulletin # 30, April 2013.

Oral history interviews

While working as an Oral Historian at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I conducted and edited 22 interviews with scientists and support staff.  Several of these interviews have been referenced in other scholars’ publications.  All interviews are available at the University of California eScholarship Repository.