Gerald Kutcher

Gerald Kutcher

Fellow: Awarded 2010

Field of Study: History of Science and Technology

Competition: US & Canada


Currently a professor of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at SUNY Binghamton, Gerald Kutcher is the author of Contested Medicine: Cancer Research and the Military (University of Chicago Press, 2009), which examines through case studies the still highly controversial total-body radiation experiments on humans conducted in the 1960s by Eugene Sanger at the University of Cincinnati. In Lancet Oncology, Alex Stojadinovic praised Contested Medicine as “a magnificent addition to medical history”; Susan Lindee of the University of Pennsylvania applauded the work as “beautifully written and filled with insights”; and Trevor Pinch of Cornell University concurred, calling it “one of the most interesting books on medical ethics to appear in years. . . . The needless suffering and lonely deaths in the cause of medical research which this book documents need a chronicler of Kutcher’s skill and sympathy for us to feel the real moral weight of what was at stake.” During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Kutcher will complete the research for his second book, tentatively titled High Expectations: A History of Cancer Therapies, again using case studies as a basis for the work.

Gerald Kutcher brings a new, perhaps unique, perspective both to his writings and to the courses he teaches at Binghamton on the history of medicine, the history of bioethics, and on the relationship between public health, society, and the state, having been a medical physicist, researcher in radiation medicine, and student of medical history and ethics.

He trained as a physicist (B.S., 1965, Ph.D., 1972, CUNY) and began his career as an instructor and then assistant professor of medical physics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (1978-82) in Philadelphia. He then spent many years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, progressing from assistant to full-tenured member (1982-98) and also as Service Chief in Clinical Physics (a Board of Directors appointment) from 1989 to 1998. In the latter position, he led a team of about fifty physicists who were responsible for the planning and delivery of radiation treatments to over 3,000 patients a year, and was also a senior member of a team of researchers who developed “intensity-modulated conformal therapy,” a more targeted treatment that helped spare healthy tissue. First used to treat prostate cancer, its applications continue to grow, encompassing many other cancers including those of the breast and head and neck.

Despite his preeminence in his field, which had led to visiting lectureships at universities and medical institutes in the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England, Mr. Kutcher decided he wanted to “look at medicine from a more historical and social perspective,” “to combine [his] practical knowledge as a researcher with a more theoretical underpinning in social and cultural history.” To that end, he left his position at Sloan-Kettering in 1998 to begin a Ph.D. program in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge, studying under the direction of Simon Schaffer. At the same time, he served for a week each month as Professor of Oncology at the University of Zeikenhaus in Leuven, Belgium, helping to direct its medical staff’s research. Even after receiving his Ph.D. from Cambridge in 2001, Mr. Kutcher continued his association with Cambridge: he was a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall in 2007 and since that year is both a Life Member of Clare Hall and an Affiliated Research Scholar in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science.

On returning to New York in 2001, he took up positions as Professor of Medical Physics and Vice-Chairman of Radiation Oncology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (2001-04). However, he found that his work left little time for the writing and research he wished to do, so when SUNY Binghamton offered him an appointment as Dean’s Professor of the History of Medicine at Binghamton in 2004 he eagerly accepted.

Gerald Kutcher is a member of the American Association of the History of Medicine, the Society for the Social History of Medicine, the History of Science Society, and the American Historical Association.