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David Serlin

Associate Professor of Communication and Science Studies

David Serlin is Associate Professor of Communication and Science Studies, and affiliated faculty in Critical Gender Studies, Urban Studies, and the Interdisciplinary Group in Cognitive Science, at UC San Diego. He is also an affiliated faculty at the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

His research interests include historical and cultural approaches to disability, technology, and the politics of design; architecture, urbanism, and the built environment; material culture and museum studies; scientific and aesthetic histories of the senses, especially tactility and cognition; and feminist, crip, and queer theories of embodiment and subjectivity.

For 2020-21 Professor Serlin was awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome for a project entitled “Sensory Design and Architectural Empathy in the Progetto Ophelia.” The Progetto Ophelia (Ophelia Project), a psychiatric hospital and residential complex in Potenza designed in 1905 by Giuseppe Quaroni and Marcello Piacentini, was an unprecedented example of empathic design for people with physical and cognitive differences decades ahead of its time. Quaroni and Piacentini deployed light, air, sound, smell, and touch to create immersive environmental experiences for patients including dark hallways that attempted to spatially approximate the individual journey of psychoanalysis. During Professor Serlin's fellowship year at the Academy, he examined the Progetto Ophelia in relation to other architectural sites, such as the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Rome, but also as a forerunner of contemporary projects, such as the Centro Diurno per Disabili in Seregno, Lombardy, that engage multisensory and empathic design elements to innovate architectures of disability for the twenty-first century.

Professor Serlin's books include Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America (University of Chicago Press, 2004), which was awarded the inaugural Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize from the Modern Language Association; Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics (co-editor; NYU Press, 2002); Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (editor; University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Keywords for Disability Studies (co-editor; NYU Press, 2015); The Routledge History of American Sexuality (co-editor; Routledge, 2020); and Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). He is an editor-at-large for Cabinet and a founding editor of the online journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. From 2000-2018 he was a member of the editorial collective for the Radical History Review


Ph.D. in American Studies, New York University (1999)


Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Forthcoming.

The Routledge History of American Sexuality. Edited by Kevin P. Murphy, Jason Ruiz, and David Serlin. New York and London: Routledge. 2020.

Keywords for Disability Studies. Edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York University Press. 2015.

Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture. Edited by David Serlin. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. 2010.

Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2004. 2005 Alan Bray Memorial Book Award from the Modern Language Association. 2006 Choice Outstanding Academic Title.

Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. Edited by Katherine Ott, Stephen Mihm, and David Serlin. New York: New York University Press. 2002.

Policing Public Sex: Queer Politics and the Future of AIDS Activism. Edited by the Dangerous Bedfellows. Boston: South End Press. 1996. Winner of the 1997 Gustavus Myers Center Award for an Outstanding Book on the Subject of Human Rights in North America. 


Co-editor (with Kelly Fritsch, Aimi Hamraie, and Mara Mills), special issue on “Crip Technoscience,” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience vol. 5, no. 1 (April 2019).

Co-editor (with Simon Schaffer and Jennifer Tucker), special issue on “Political Histories of Technoscience,” Radical History Review 127 (January 2017).

Co-editor (with Amy Chazkel), special issue on “New Approaches to Enclosures,” Radical History Review 109 (Winter 2011).

Co-editor (with Amy Chazkel), special issue on “Enclosures: Fences, Walls, and Contested Spaces,” Radical History Review 108 (Fall 2010)

Co-editor (with Kevin Murphy and Jason Ruiz), special issue on “Queer Futures,” Radical History Review 100 (Winter 2008).

Co-editor (with Teresa Meade), special issue on “Disability and History,” Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006).

Co-editor (with Kavita Philip and Eliza Jane Reilly), special issue on “Homeland Securities,” Radical History Review 93 (Fall 2005).


“The Politics of Friction: Designing a Sex Toy for Every Body.” In Design for One: Post-Universal Design and the New Normal, ed. Elizabeth Guffey. New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic. Forthcoming.

“Unfixed: Materializing Disability and Queerness in Three Objects” (with Kate Clark). In Turning Archival: The Life of the Historical in Queer Studies, eds. Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici. Durham: Duke University Press. Forthcoming.

“Guns, Germs, and Public History: A Conversation with Jennifer Tucker.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 2020;1-15,

“Banking on Postmodernism: Saving Stanley Tigerman’s Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.” Future Anterior 16:1 (Summer 2019). 86-108.

“Toward a Crip Methodology for Critical Disability Studies” (with Louise Hickman). In Interdisciplinary Approaches to Disability: Looking Toward the Future, eds. Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Katie Ellis, Mike Curtin, and Rachel Robertson New York and London: Routledge, 2019. 131-141.

“Bodies.” In Don Romesburg, ed., The Routledge History of Queer America. New York: Routledge, 2018. 135-147.

“Introduction.” In Phallacies: Historical Intersections of Disability and Masculinity, eds. Kathleen Brian and James Trent. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 1-24.

“The Queer Art of James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas.” In James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues, ed. Jonathan Berger and Jessica Iannuzzi Garcia. New York: Karma, 2017. 113-120.

“Science and the Senses: Deviation.” In Correspondences, Cultural Anthropology (February 17, 2017),

“Confronting African Histories of Technology: A Conversation with Keith Breckenridge and Gabrielle Hecht.” Radical History Review 127 (January 2017). 86-102.

“Disability” (with Rachel Adams and Benjamin Reiss). In Keywords for Disability Studies, ed. Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York University Press, 2015. 5-11.

“The Marshall Nirenberg Charts: The ‘First Summary.’” Exhibition and App curated for the National Institutes of Health on the fiftieth anniversary of Nirenberg’s discovery of the genetic code, (March 2015).

“Constructing Autonomy: Smart Homes for Disabled Veterans and the Politics of Normative Citizenship.” Critical Military Studies 1:1 (February 2015). 38-46.

“Proliferating Cripistemologies.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 8:2 (2014). 149-169.

“Reshaping History: The Intersection of Radical and Women’s History.” Journal of Women’s History25:4 (Winter 2013). 13-45.

“The Broken Circuit” (with Lauren Berlant and Sina Najafi). In Reading/Feeling, ed. Tanja Baudoin, Frédérique Bergholtz, and Vivian Ziherl (Amsterdam: Idea Books, 2013). 375-383.

“Members Only.” The Feminist Wire, (March 2013).

“How to Be Yourself in Public.” In Zoe Wool, ed., “Soldier Exposures in Technical Publics,” a collaborative visual essay published on Public Books, media website for Public Culture, (February 2013).

“On Walkers and Wheelchairs: Disabling the Narratives of Urban Modernity.” Radical History Review114 (Fall 2012). 19-28.

“Carney Landis and the Psychosexual Landscape of Touch in Mid-Twentieth-Century America.” History of Psychology 15:3 (August 2012). 209-216. Honorable Mention for Outstanding Article from the Disability History Association (2013).

“Architecture and Social Justice: Independent Living on Campus.” Boom: A Journal of California 2:1 (Spring 2012). 53-54.

“Touching Histories: Personality, Disability, and Sex in the 1930s.” In Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow, eds., Sex and Disability (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 145-162.

“Pissing Without Pity: Disability, Gender, and the Public Toilet.” In Harvey Molotch and Laura Norén, eds., Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 167-185. [Reprinted in Jos Boys, ed., Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 2017), 213-226.]

“Toward a Visual Culture of Public Health: From Broadside to YouTube.” In David Serlin, ed., Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), xi-xxxvii.

“Performing Live Surgery on Television and the Internet Since 1945.” In David Serlin, ed., Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 223-244.

“Endocrinology” and “Prosthetics.” Entries in Susan Burch and Katherine Ott, eds., The Encyclopedia of American Disability History (New York: Facts on File, 2009).

“The Other Arms Race.” In Lennard J. Davis, ed., The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 49-65.

“Disabling the Flâneur.” Journal of Visual Culture 5:2 (August 2006), 193-208. [Reprinted in Jos Boys, ed., Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 2017), 13-21.]

“Making Disability Public.” Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006), 197-211.

“Disability, Masculinity, and the Prosthetics of War, 1945 to 2005.” In Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra, eds., The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 155-183.

“Can a Building Be Jewish?” Architecture 93:7 (July 2004), 23-26.

“Bathhouses,” “Gladys Bentley,” “Christine Jorgensen,” and “John Money and Anke Ehrhardt.” Entries in Marc Stein, ed., The Encyclopedia of American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004).

“Crippling Masculinity: Queerness and Disability in U.S. Military Culture, 1800-1945.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9:1/2 (Winter/Spring 2003), 149-179.

“Rethinking the Corporate Biosphere: The Social Ecology of Sustainable Architecture.” In David Gissen, ed., Big and Green: Sustainable Urban Architecture for the 21st Century (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003), 136-145.

“Engineering Masculinity: Veterans and Prosthetics After World War Two.” In Katherine Ott, David Serlin, and Stephen Mihm, eds., Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics (New York: NYU Press, 2002), 45-74.

“From Sesame Street to Schoolhouse Rock: Urban Pedagogy and Soul Iconography During the 1970s.” In Richard Green and Monique Guillory, eds., Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure (New York: NYU Press, 1998), 105-20.

“Weegee and the Jewish Question” (with Jesse Lerner). Wide Angle 19:4 (Fall 1997), 94-108.

“The Twilight (Zone) of Commercial Sex.” In Dangerous Bedfellows, eds., Policing Public Sex: Queer Politics and the Future of AIDS Activism (Boston: South End Press, 1996), 45-52.

“Christine Jorgensen and the Cold War Closet.” Radical History Review 62 (Spring 1995), 136-165. [Reprinted in Kathy Peiss, ed., Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 384-393.

“The Dialogue of Gender in Melville's The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.” Modern Language Studies 25:2 (Spring 1995), 80-87.

Frequently Taught Courses

  • Advanced Approaches to Science Studies
  • American Television in the 1970s
  • Architecture as Communication
  • Historical Methods in Communication Research
  • How to Have a Conversation
  • Introduction to LGBTQ Studies
  • Media Archaeology
  • The Politics of Bodies
  • Public History and Museum Studies
  • Smells Like Epistemology: Sensory Studies Meets Science Studies
  • Touch as Communication
  • Visual Culture