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Christopher W. Crenner, MD, PhD

Christopher Crenner portrait
Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine

Professional Background

As chair of the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine I have the pleasure to guide one of the leading departments in a school of medicine. Using the combined resources of a rare-books library, a museum, and historical archives, we strive to make the history of medicine a vital part of the life of the medical center. In addition, we are the heart of the university's biomedical ethics programs. Our department organizes and leads ethics education for medical students and residents and directs the KU Hospital ethics committee and busy ethics consult service.

I am the series editor for Rochester Studies in Medical History with University of Rochester Press. I supervise residents in the primary care clinic in the division of general internal medicine. I also work evenings as a volunteer physician at the JayDoc Free Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas.

Education and Training
  • BA, Classics with Program in Science in Human Affairs, Princeton Univ.
  • PhD, History of Science, Harvard Univ.
  • MD, Medicine, Harvard Univ.
  • Residency, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA
  • Other, Clinical Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
  • Clinical Fellowship, General Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Manchester VA Medical Center
Licensure, Accreditations & Certifications
  • American Board of Internal Medicine



My research aims to map the changing relationship between the biomedical sciences and medical practice historically – to understand the places and means for the ever-changing intersection of knowledge and action.

My first book, Private Practice (Hopkins, 2005), used the detailed medical practice records of the influential Boston physician, Richard Cabot, to explore this question.

Cabot’s practice records tipped me off to another fundamental concern at the intersection between science and medical practice in this formative period. The early twentieth century marked the high point of scientific racism and eugenics in the US. This period also witnessed the development of major institutions that shaped the course of scientific medicine into the present day. What was the influence of scientific racism on routine medical practice in this turbulent era?

An article on the creation of clinical laboratory standards or “normal values” in the 1920s revealed the implications of this phenomenon. The production of a normal ranges for routine medical tests became a national project in the 1920s. These data were almost uniformly reported without racial distinctions. Yet, as was readily evident to a couple of African American physician-scientists of the day, these numbers defined normal using exclusively white, segregated populations. Their critiques exposed the harmful implications of an easy conflation in medicine between average and ideal. This article on “Race and Laboratory Norms” (Isis 2014) went on to win the 2015 Price-Webster Prize for the best article published the previous two years in this flagship journal of the international History of Science Society.

My present work shifts focus to surgery, which is a sector of medical practice where the influence of scientific methods and ideals remains largely unexamined historically. Cooperating with a colleague at McGill University, Dr. Thomas Schlich, I edited a book on Technological Change in Modern Surgery (Rochester, 2017), based on a symposium on the issue that I helped to convene at the University of Kansas in 2016. I contributed a chapter on “Placebos and the Progress of Surgery” that explores the development of the clinical trial in surgery. I currently have funding from the Michael DeBakey Fellowship in the History of Medicine from the National Library of Medicine to study the development of surgical approaches to peptic ulcer disease as a case study of the influence of physiological research on surgical innovatio

  • Crenner, CW. 2005. Private Practice: In the Early Twentieth Century Medical Clinic of Dr. Richard Cabot, Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Schlich, Thomas, Crenner, Christopher. 2017. Technological Change in Modern Surgery: Historical Perspectives on Innovation