A Lyne Starling Trimble History of Science Public Lecture
Wednesday, December 6, 2023, 3:00 PM ET, virtual webinar
A startling woman wears a silk rob and seemingly nothing else. She flashes her naked shoulder, her hands elegantly reach his, while her bare legs touch his thighs. She looks young, elegant, inviting. He, an older man, is sitting at an armchair, fully dressed and at her mercy. The message in the Vita Radium Suppositories advertisment for sexually impotent men is clear: “He realizes that happiness depends on his ability to perform the duties of a REAL MAN…Now is the time to act! Today! RIGHT NOW! Tomorrow may never come.”
In the early twentieth century, radium was poised to affect the sexual lives of men and women, revolutionize the American household, and change medical clinics. Advertisements promised that radium fertilizers would beautify gardens; radium paints would glow from the faces of wristwatches and clocks; radium cosmetics would woo men; radium suppositories would restore their sexual vigor and virility; and radium needles would eradicate cancerous tumors. Once considered exclusively a scientific object, radium in the early twentieth century U.S. was quickly transformed to a kinky commodity that appeared in numerous formats and in different contexts. It was provokingly advertised and widely consumed, shaping social attitudes, gender identities, as well as medical and laboratory practices. In turn, radium commodities often returned to the sites of their production—the scientific laboratory—dictating lines of research and constructing scientific facts. This talk is a presentation of the newly published book Seduced by Radium and is about the process of radium becoming a familiar and desirable commodity.
Maria Rentetzi is Professor and Chair of Science, Technology and Gender studies at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen – Nürnberg. She works at the intersection of science and technology studies, nuclear diplomacy, and gender. She is an ERC Con grantee and an affiliate of the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, previously a guest professor at the TU Berlin, Silverman Professor at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and professor at the National Technical University of Athens. Rentetzi has published widely on the history of radioactivity and the nuclear sciences, on gender and science, and on nuclear diplomacy. Her books include Seduced By Radium: How Industry Transformed Science in the American Marketplace (Pittsburgh University Press, 2022); Boxes: A Field Guide (co-edited with S. Bauer and M. Schlünder, 2020, Mattering Press); Trafficking Materials and Gender Experimental Practices (2007, Columbia University); 101 Notes on Oriental Tobacco (co-edited with Spiros Flevaris, Benaki Museum); The Gender of Things (Routledge, forthcoming). She is also editing a collective volume on the history of radiation protection with Angela Creager and Susan Lindee. A second one entitled Diplomatic Studies of Science: An Introduction is in the making and comes out of the 202 Cain Conference of the U.S. Science History Institute, which Rentetzi was invited to organize. For more information visit https://rentetzi.de and https://www.stgs.fau.de.