Erik L. Peterson

Erik L. Peterson

Associate Professor


  • PhD, University of Notre Dame, 2010


Research Interests

  • History & Philosophy of Science & Medicine
  • Race science, Social Darwinism, & eugenics
  • Evolution, genetics & epigenetics
  • Biology education in the USA, UK, France, & Germany
  • Science, medicine, & popular culture from the Victorian era to the present

Current Projects

  • On the Edge of Cutting: How America Became the First Eugenic Nation, and Why It Might Again (proposal under review).
  • Understanding Darwin. Cambridge Understanding Life series. University of Cambridge Press (expected 2024).
  • History & Philosophy of Science, Key Reflections; Part III: Late Enlightenment / Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century (1750 to 1900). New York: Bloomsbury (co-editor with E. Crull, City University of New York; expected 2024).
  • Speaking of Race“–the interdisciplinary podcast about the history of race & science.
  • A Deeper Sickness online: the Digital Museum of the Pandemic Year, 2020.
  • “The Racialist Origins and Purity Assumptions of the Concept of Admixture in Human Evolutionary Genetics,” Human Genomics (co-authoring with K. Kampourakis, University of Geneva) (under review).
  • “Myth: That Darwin’s Hatred of Slavery was Due to His Belief in Racial Equality,” in Darwin Myths & the Nature of Science, edited by K. Kampourakis. New York: Oxford University Press (expected 2024).
  • “A ‘Fourth Wave’ of Vitalism in the Mid-20th Century?” in Vitalism & its Legacies in the Twentieth Century, edited by C. Donohue and C.T. Wolfe. Berlin: Springer (expected 2023).

Courses Taught

  • Foundations of Medical Humanities (IDMD 102)
  • History of Science/Medicine 1: Stonehenge to Magnets (HY 115)
  • History of Science/Medicine 2: Gravity to Genomes (HY 116)
  • Evolution for Everyone (ANT 150)
  • A Global History of Gaming (HY 307)
  • Race & Science (HY 345)
  • Epidemics! A History of Medicine (HY 346)
  • Darwin’s (R)evolution (HY 455)
  • Blood & Guts & Toilets in Victorian Britain (HY 494/495(H))

Awards and Honors

  • Distinguished Teaching Fellow, University of Alabama (2017-2020)
  • Outstanding Student Advisor Award, University of Alabama (2015)
  • Honored Instructor Award, University of Wisconsin – Madison (2011)
  • National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, SES-0849138 (2009 – 2010)
  • University of Notre Dame, Zahm Research Grant (2008)

Selected Publications

Recent talks

  • 2022
    • “Creating A Deeper Sickness,” American Advertising Federation of Tuscaloosa.
    • A Deeper Sickness: Disease and Disinformation,” OPCAM Politics Broadly, University of Alabama.
    • “The Historical Roots of the Public Health Responses to COVID-19 in the South,” American Historical Association, Annual Convention, New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • 2021
    • Presented “Afraid of the Dark: John Beddoe and the Building of the ‘Index of Nigressence’” and chaired/organized “Building Race into the Machine: Race, Big Data, and Algorithms,” History of Science Society/Society for the History of Technology, Annual Convention. New Orleans, Louisiana.
    •  “Creating the Digital Museum for Deeper Sickness,” Digitorium 2021, Annual Convention. Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
    • “Sustaining an Interdisciplinary Podcast,” Humanities Podcasting Symposium, NYU Center for the Humanities.
  • 2020
    • Chair/commenter on “Racial Bodies of Knowledge: Reformulations of Human Difference in Physical Anthropology,” History of Science Society, Annual Convention. Zoom conference.
    • “Anti-Evolutionism was Really About Race,” American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science for Seminaries.
    • “Charles Darwin & the Church: Not the Story You’ve Been Told,” Inherit the Wind at Theater Tuscaloosa.
  • 2019
    • “How the West was lost: Revisiting the supposed failure of Anglo-American theoretical biology,” History of Science Society, Annual Convention. Utrecht, Netherlands (presented in absentia).
    • “Darwin & Evolution: Misconceptions that make teaching more difficult,” National Science Teachers Association, Annual Convention, St. Louis, Missouri.
    • “Human Biodiversity Studies = Just Bad-Old Race Science,” ALLELE, University of Alabama.
    • “Josiah C. Nott’s Impact,” Evolution for Everyone, University of Alabama.
    • “Darwin, Wallace, and the (quite possibly) Racist Birth of Anthropology,” University of Missouri.
    • “Who’s Afraid of ‘23andMe’? Some Implications of ‘Recreational Genomics’,” Boston College.
  • 2018
    • “‘Like Somebody Who Has Seen Thousands of Trees but Has Never Seen a Forest’: The critical role of History and Philosophy of Science in Science Education,” History of Science Society/Philosophy of Science Association, Annual Convention. Seattle, Washington.
    • “Finding the Organism in Computational History of Biology,” Bowdoin College.
    • “Epigenetics is 76 years old, so why are you just now hearing about it?” University of Minnesota.
    • “Nott, Our Doctor: How Medicine, Race, Religion, and Evolution Collide,” Alabama State Archives and Museum of History.
    • “C.H. Waddington, organicism, and epigenetics,” The Santa Fe Institute.
  • 2017
    • “You are already teaching Nature of Science; here’s how to do it better,” National Science Teachers Association, Southern Section meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana.
    • “Evolution in the classroom doesn’t have to be scary,” National Science Teachers Association, Southern Section meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana.
    •  “A century of science/technology fears in American film,” History of Science Society, Annual convention. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
    •  “What if biological theory repeats itself?” Southern History of Science and Technology (SoHoST), Nashville, Tennessee.
  • 2016
    • “The promises and perils of History of Science pedagogy using Sci-fi,” History of Science Society/Philosophy of Science Association, Annual Convention. Atlanta, Georgia.
    •  “How to Talk About Darwin” National Science Teachers Association, Annual Convention. Nashville, Tennessee.
    •  “Was Biology ‘stuck’ in the early 20th Century? Is it still ‘stuck’?” Ruhr-Universität–Bochum, Germany.