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Profile profile for ottk

Katherine Ott


Ph.D. American History, Temple University
M.A. American History, Temple University
B.U.S. Media Studies and Mass Communication, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Research Specialties: 

History of the body, disability, ethnic and folk medicine, integrative and alternative medicine, ophthalmology, plastic surgery and dermatology, medical technology, prosthetics and rehabilitation, gender and sexuality, visual and material culture, ephemera.


Current Projects:

Tweeting @:

Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians, 2014-2017;

Associate Professorial Lecturer of American Studies, The George Washington University, 2007-present

Understanding Material Culture: a Primer in Material Literacy; book project under contract with Routledge, Taylor and Francis, Publishers.  This introduction to working with material culture describes the basic qualities of objects.

Research and exhibition project on the history and culture of skin in the United States

Research project on the history of hematology

Research on aspects of the history of disability, universal design, prosthetics, medical technology and the body, and the visual culture of medicine


Past Projects:

“EveryBody: an Artifact History of Disability in America,” project director and lead curator, online exhibition, launched June 2013.

"The Tooth Fairy File," 2013.

"30 Years of HIV-AIDS," project director and co-curator, exhibition and web site, June-December 2011.

“Inventing Ourselves,” co-curator, exhibition and web site, 2004-2005.

“Whatever Happened to Polio?” project director and curator, exhibition and web site,  2003–2006.

"Acupuncture: A Transnational Tale of Medical History," project direrctor and curator, exhibition, 2002–2003.

Smithsonian's installation of Gallaudet traveling exhibition "History Through Deaf Eyes," liaison, Arts and Industries Building, May–September 2002.

“The Disability Rights Movement,” project director and curator, exhibition and web site, 2000–2001.

“About Faces: The Post-War Boom in Craniofacial Knowledge,” co-curator, exhibition, 1997–1998.

Professional Affiliations: 
  • American Association for the History of Medicine
  • American Association for State and Local History
  • American Historical Association
  • American Studies Association
  • National Council on Public History
  • Organization of American Historians; Committee on Public History (2013-2017)
  • Society for Disability Studies


“The Iron Lung in History and Cultural Memory,” in Mary Jo Arnoldi, ed., Engaging Smithsonian Objects through Science, History, and the Arts  (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2016):192-205.

Explains how understanding the history of the tank respirator, or iron lung, relates to its interpretation in a museum exhibit.

“Prosthetics,” in Keywords in Disability, David Serlin, Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, eds. (New York: New York University Press, 2015):140-143.

Describes interdisciplinary ways of analyzing and comprending prosthetics.

“Disability Things,” in Susan Burch and Michael Rembis, eds., Disability Histories (University of Illinois Press, 2014): 119-135.

A critical analysis of the intersection of material culture theory and disability.

“Using Science to Parse the Body: Some Artful Methods for Learning Medicine,” in Analyzing Art and Aesthetics, Anne Collins Goodyear and Margaret A. Weitekamp, editors (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2013): 2-16.

Analysis of the role of models in understanding the body, using three different medical objects.

“Collective Bodies; What Museums do for Disability Studies,” in Re-Presenting Disability; Activism and Agency in the Museum, Richard Sandell, Jocelyn Dodd, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, eds. (New York, London: Routledge, 2010): 269-279.

A discussion of the politics and implications of disability content in exhibitions.

“Contagion, Public Health, and the Visual Culture of Nineteenth Century Skin,” in David Serlin, ed. Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010): 85-107.

Analyzes the relationship of the graphic representations of the dermatological conditions of scabies and favus (ringworm) to the beginning of professional public health work.

Scrapbooks In American Life, with Susan Tucker, Patricia Buckler, eds. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006).

A collection of essays examining the origins and different uses of scrapbooks through analysis of a variety of albums.  Winner of the Allen G. Noble Book Award for best edited volume on material culture.

"Between Person and Profession: the Scrapbooks of 19th-Century Medical Practitioners," in Katherine Ott, Susan Tucker, and Patricia Buckler, eds., Scrapbooks in American Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006): 29-41.

Examines the role of scrapbooks in the lives of physicians and nurses.

"An Introduction to the History of Scrapbooks," with Susan Tucker and Patricia Buckler, in Katherine Ott, Susan Tucker, and Patricia Buckler, eds., Scrapbooks in American Life  (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006): 1-25.

An overview of the antecedents to scrapbooks and analysis of different ways of using them as primary sources.

"Disability and the Practice of Public History: An Introduction," in The Public Historian, v. 27, no. 2 (Spring 2005), pp. 11-24.
The Public Historian, with Susan Burch, eds. Special issue on disability, v. 27, no. 2 (Spring 2005).

A special issue of the journal that explores the intersection of disability studies and public history.

"Carnage Remembered: Prosthetics in the United States Military Since the 1860s," in Bernard Finn and Barton Hacker, eds., Materializing the Military (London: Science Museum, 2005): 47-64.

An overview of the influence of the military on the development and use of prosthetics.

“The Sum of Its Parts: An Introduction to Modern Histories of Prosthetics,” in Katherine Ott, David Serlin, Stephen Mihm, eds., Artificial Parts, Practical Lives; Modern Histories of Prosthetics (New York: New York University Press, 2002): 1-42.

An overview of the evolution of understanding of prosthetics.

"Hard Wear and Soft Tissue: Craft and Commerce in Artificial Eyes," in Katherine Ott, David Serlin, Stephen Mihm, eds., Artificial Parts, Practical Lives; Modern Histories of Prosthetics (New York: New York University Press, 2002): 147-170.

Examines development of the making of artificial eyes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including discussion of techniques, materials, training of the makers, and the internal politics of eye-making.

Artificial Parts, Practical Lives; Modern Histories of Prosthetics, with David Serlin, Stephen Mihm, eds. (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

A collection of essays examining aspects of the history of prosthetics, such as Civil War soldiers’ petitions for limbs, the Jaipur foot, and the artificial hip.

Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture since 1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).

Nominated for the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award.
By examining the technologies used to diagnose and treat tuberculosis, this book explains how the material culture of medicine influences the conceptualization of a disease as much as the medical textbook definitions.