Fall 2021 Colloquium - Elizabeth Toon

A simple test

Title: The Do-It-Herself Smear: Prevention Technology, Medical Practice, and Cervical Cancer Screening in 1960s Britain

Abstract: This talk is part of my larger project, 'Making Screening Work', on the history of cervical cancer screening in the United Kingdom.  While national health authorities registered support for a regular programme of cervical cancer screening early in the 1960s, it took until the end of that decade for facilities, practitioners, and systems to be fully ready to take on the challenge of providing the service to the UK's women. Even so, policymakers and leading medical experts disagreed about the best approaches to delivering screening, and were particularly worried about reaching rural women and women thought less likely for cultural, social, or economic reasons to attend.  One approach they trialled was what they called the 'do-it-herself smear', a form of self-sampling that -- theoretically, at least -- would allow women to participate in screening without visiting a GP or clinic.  In this talk, I discuss why this approach initially seemed appealing, and why it failed in practice, asking what it can tell us about the technological, social, and political challenges associated with the introduction of screening.  By focusing on historical discussions about the mundane realities of smear-taking, I show that we can better understand the larger challenges that instituting screening presented to medical organisation, and grasp how this new technology of prevention reshaped both the delivery of care and women's health experiences.


Lectures begin at 3:35pm in Rapson Hall 45 on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.  As a reminder, masks are required indoors by University of Minnesota policy. 

The Program in History of Science, Technology and Medicine and the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science will host a joint lecture series in Fall 2021. At this time, all events will be in-person unless otherwise stated. Please contact hstm@umn.edu for more information. 



Start date
Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, 3:35 p.m.
End date
Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, 4:30 p.m.