Christopher Crenner, MD, Ph.D.

Professor & Chair of History and Philosophy of Medicine

Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine
MS 1025, KUMC
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160

(913) 588-7040 -- department
(913) 588-7060 -- fax
(913) 588-7040 -- office

Education and Training

  • Princeton University, A.B. in Classics, with Science in Human Affairs
  • Harvard University, Ph.D. in History of Science
  • Harvard Medical School, MD
  • Brigham and Women's Hospital, residency in internal medicine, Dunn Award winner
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Fellowship in General Internal Medicine

Research, Teaching and Service

My research aims to map the changing relationship between biomedical sciences and medical practice historically. My first book, Private Practice (Johns Hopkins, 2005) examined how new technology affected the interactions between physician and patient. The book explores the patient correspondence and medical practice records of the physician, Richard Cabot. Cabot was by turns both a prominent advocate for and an incisive critic of the new technology of early twentieth-century medicine. His exchanges with patients help to document new dilemmas emerging in the application of a technologically complex medicine. I have recently been investigating how concepts of race and racial science affected medicine during this same critical period in the early century. I published a study of considerations of racial difference in medical practice in an integrated free clinic in the 1910s and a study of the influence of scientific racism on the hypotheses being tested in the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

A paper out for review traces evolving methods for establishing normality in medical laboratories in the 1920s and 1930s, and a critique of the implicit racial bias in these methods promoted by an overlooked African American scientist of the time, Julian Herman Lewis. These projects develop from a larger project examining the changing role of race in the organization of hospital practice during the early twentieth-century, in a period of rapid immigration and migration in urban areas across the central United States. In parallel, I am examining the development of laboratory medicine at the intersection of research and practice in the middle twentieth century. The research has been funded in part by the National Library of Medicine, the Hartford Foundation, the Missouri Humanities Council and the Mellon Foundation.

In medical education, my overriding goal is to support the intellectual growth of physicians who can think critically about their work, and who can account for the many factors that influence their patients' health. Medicine is in the midst of rapid change. Some of the largest challenges facing physicians today lie at the interface of the profession and the wider society. I am concerned that future physicians who try to "keep their heads down," may wind up disillusioned. Our medical graduates should feel that they understand and can influence the social dimensions of health and healing in their careers and their daily work. History provides an excellent guide for understanding the changing contours and responsibilities of the field of medicine. Historically informed graduates will stand an excellent chance of finding a path through professional change enable them to remain valuable to their patients and their profession through a long, satisfying career.

As chair of the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine I have the privilege of directing one of best situated such departments in a school of medicine nationally. Using the combined resources of a remarkable library, a museum and historical archives, we strive to make the history of medicine a vital part of the intellectual life of the medicine center. In addition, we are the heart of the ethics programs for the KU Medical Center and the KU Hospital, fostering ethics education for the medical students and residency programs and organizing the hospital ethics committee and ethics consult service. In my professional service, I worked as book review editor for the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences from 2003 to 2007, and from 2007 to 2011 as the national Secretary-Treasurer and then Secretary for the American Association for the History of Medicine. I am currently on the editorial advisory board of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. In my medical practice at the KU Hospital I provide longitudinal medical care for adult patients through the primary care clinic. I continue to serve as a volunteer physician at the Free JayDoc Health Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas.

Select Publications

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the Scientific Concept of Racial Nervous Resistance. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. (2011) doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrr003 First published online: February 12, 2011

An Appreciation of Irony in the Medical Writing of William Osler. In The Persisting Osler IV: Selected Transactions of the American Osler Society, edited by Jeremiah A. Barondess and Charles S. Bryan. American Osler Society, 2011.

Race and Medical Practice in the Kansas City Free Dispensary. Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 2008; 82(4): 820-47.

The Machine in the Garden. Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin, 2007; 81(1): 20-25.

Laboratories and Medical Expertise in Boston circa 1900. In Devices and Designs: Technology and Medicine in Historical Perspective. Edited by Julie Anderson & Carsten Timmermann, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Private Practice: In the Early Twentieth Century Medical Clinic of Dr. Richard Cabot, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

C. Crenner. Race and Laboratory Norms: The Critical Insights of Julian Herman Lewis (1891-1989). Isis. Vol. 105, No. 3, (2014): 477-507

Emily Mayhew and Christopher Crenner. Introduction. In Medical Care during the First World War: A Special Virtual Issue, ed. Christopher Crenner and Emily Mayhew. Available online at:

In Preparation

C. Crenner. Placebos and the Progress of Surgery. In Surgical Alternatives: The Uses and Transformations of Surgical Technology, ed. Thomas Schlich and Christopher Crenner. Under review at University of Rochester Press.


Julian Herman Lewis and the Concept of Ordinary Racial Difference. Bruce Kantar Lecture in the History of Medicine. Department of the History of Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, September 20, 2010.

Medical Specialization through the Lens of History. Lecture. Jager Society. University of Kansas School of Medicine, Wichita. Wichita, Kansas, November 18, 2010.

The Changing Use of Racial Categories to Classify Patients at the Commercial Hospital of Cincinnati, 1850 to 1900. Seminar, Department of Anthropology, History, Cultural Studies and Relgion," University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, Wednesday May 19, 2010.

Racial Difference and the Concept of Laboratory Normality. Seminar, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 26, 2010.

Julian Herman Lewis and the Ordinary Racial Difference in Normal Values. Lecture, Centre for History of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK, Tuesday June 8, 2010.

The Ethics Consult Service at KU Hospital and How We Doubled Volume in One Year. Kansas City Area Ethics Committee Consortium. Research Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, March 3, 2011.

The Flexner Report and American Medicine around 1910.The Osler Society of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, April 21, 2011.

Last modified: May 02, 2016