History in My Cancer Class

Posted on December 9, 2009 by


I was taking Biology 285, Professor Robert Oppenheimer’s Biology of Cancer class at California State University Northridge.

What I could not help but notice during one class was the way that the history of scrotal cancer was presented.

Yes, this was only a 15-week class with one meeting a week and history wasn’t the main focus. But nonetheless, having been a History of Science and Medicine minor and being interested in institutional memory, the way history is presented is endlessly interesting to me, mainly because history affects the way people project and act on their own life trajectories as a result of being part of different categories. Categories like the black racial category, or the queer gender category, or the business man social and job category.

The history I learned from this class was presented as episodes emanating solely from the category of Western society and culture. The phenomena is identified and located within 18th century and 19th century lore as if it wasn’t identified or located in any other society or culture before.

What annoyed me about the way history was presented was that there was no sense of interconnection and influence from other peoples and cultures. People who hopped on some type of “discovery” or “invention” figured things out in a vacuum, and quite randomly. It’s as if these were just isolated geniuses only from the West, endowed with these mystical powers of ingenuity with no support network at all. It is as if these geniuses achieved things because they were special, not because they had any of the right circumstances and networks. (Or maybe these ancestors, precursors, Chinese and Greek philosophers, were indeed special, and we’ve de-evolved as humans to the point where we can’t do anything right without being connected to tons of people)

The history was presented as if all of China, all of Africa, all of India, the 2 million years of homo sapien existence never dealt with it or said anything about scrotal cancer. I don’t know if those societies actually ever did say something about scrotal cancer in their years of existence, but I can’t imagine that they went so long over so many areas without experiencing it. Scholarship and/or history as we know it, simply hasn’t detected it yet.