Alisha Rankin

Alisha Rankin

Associate Professor
East Hall, Room 107
6 The Green, Medford, MA


I joined the Tufts history department in January 2008, after spending three years as a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. I received my PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University in 2005 and my BA from Wellesley College in History and German Studies in 1996.

My broad research interests include early modern European history (c. 1450-1700), the history of science and medicine, the history of pharmacy, and women's history. I am particularly interested in the intersection of scholarly and lay knowledge in the history of medicine and pharmacy and in the history of experiment more broadly. My first book, Panaceia's Daughters: Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2013) examines German princesses who became widely known and admired for their medical knowledge in the sixteenth century – and particularly for making medicinal cures. It won the 2014 Gerald Strauss Prize for Reformation History. I also co-edited a collection of essays titled Secrets and Knowledge in Medicine and Science, 1500-1800, which was published by Ashgate Press in 2011.

My latest book, The Poison Trials: Wonder Drugs, Experiment, and the Battle for Authority in Renaissance Science (University of Chicago Press, 2021), looks at the important role poison antidotes played in attempts to evaluate early modern cures – and in the development of early modern experiment more broadly. It was excerpted in Lapham's Quarterly in January 2021. While working on the book, I co-led the working group "Testing Drugs and Trying Cures in Early Modern Europe" at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and co-organized (with Elaine Leong) a conference on the topic in June 2014. We published a special journal issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine (Summer, 2017) on the topic.

I was part of the Translating Medicine Across the Premodern World working group at the Max Planck Institute and am finalizing an article on vernacular translations the Spanish physician Nicolás Monardes' writings on New World drugs. Future projects include a study of time and medicine in early modern Europe and a longue durée study of the use of prisoners for medical experiments. I am also co-editing the volume on Early Modern Medicine for the Cambridge History of Medicine.

My courses cover my range of research interests. I have developed courses on Renaissance and Reformation Europe; gender and family; the history of science and medicine; and the history of the book. Whenever possible, I bring in global perspectives and highlight underrepresented groups. I also integrate rare books and other materials from isch Library Special Collections into my teaching. I teach a survey course called Science and Technology in World History as part of the IR Core, and I am core faculty in STS, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, IR, and Environmental Studies.


Early Modern Europe, the History of Science and Medicine, Women's History, the History of the Body and Sexuality

Selected Honors and Awards

Visiting Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, July-August 2016
Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, Sept 2015- May 2016
Visiting Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, May-June 2014
Faculty Fellow, Center for the Humanities at Tufts, 2012-2013
Faculty Research Awards Committee Fellowship, Tufts University, 2010-2011
Junior Research Fellowship in History, Trinity College, Cambridge, 2004-2008
Dissertation Finishing Grant, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 2004-2005
Dissertation Research Fellowship, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, 2003-2004
Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, 2002-2003
Wellesley College Eugene Cox Fellowship for Dissertation Research, 2002-2003
Fulbright Fellowship for the Study of History in Germany, 1996-1997
Gerald Strauss Book Prize for Reformation History, Sixteenth Century Studies Society and Conference, 2014
Shryock Medal, American Association for the History of Medicine, 2005
Bok Center Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Harvard University, 2002

Selected Publications and Presentations


Guest Editing:

  • "Testing Drugs and Trying Cures": Special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 91 (Summer, 2017). Co-edited with Elaine Leong.

Selected Articles:

  • "Chymistry for Ladies: Women and Medical Distillation in Early Modern Europe," in The Physicians’ Stone: Alchemy and Medicine from Antiquity to the Enlightenment, ed. Jennifer M. Rampling and Peter Jones (Routledge Press, forthcoming 2021).
  • "Experience in Medicine," in A Cultural History of Medicine, vol. 3: The Renaissance, ed. Elaine Leong and Claudia Stein, general editor Roger Cooter (Berg/Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2021).
  • "Telling Time Through Medicine: A Gendered Perspective," in Gendered Temporalities in the Early Modern World, ed. Merry Wiesner-Hanks (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).
  • "Gender, Poison, and Antidote in Early Modern Europe," in 'It All Depends on the Dose': Poisons and Medicines in European History, edited by Jon Arrizabalaga, Andrew Cunningham, and Ole Peter Grell (Routledge Press, 2018).
  • "On Anecdote and Antidotes: Poison Trials in Early Modern Europe." Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 91 (Summer 2017): 274-302.
  • "Testing Drugs and Trying Cures: Experiment and Medicine in Early Modern Europe," with Elaine Leong. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 91 (Summer 2017): 157-182.
  • "Exotic Materials and Treasured Knowledge: The Valuable Legacy of Noblewomen's Pharmacy in Early Modern Germany," Renaissance Studies, 28 (2014): 533-555.
  • "How to Cure the Golden Vein: Medical Remedies as Wissenschaft in Early Modern Germany," in Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge, ed. Pamela H. Smith, Amy Meyers, and Harold Cook (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 113-137.
  • "Women in Science and Medicine, 1400-1800." In The Ashgate Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, ed. Allyson Poska, Katherine McIver, and Jane Couchman. Ashgate Press, 2013.
  • "Empirics, Physicians, and Wonder Drugs in Early Modern Germany: The Case of the Panacea Amwaldina." Early Science and Medicine 14 (2009): 680-710.
  • "Experimente am Hof: Die pharmazeutische Praxis der Anna on Sachsen (1532-1585)." Sächsische Heimat Blätter 55:2 (2009): 155-163.
  • "The Housewife's Apothecary in Early Modern Austria: Wolfgang Helmhard von Hohberg's Georgica curiosa (1682)." Medicina & Storia, 15 (2008): 59-78.
  • "Duchess, Heal Thyself: Elisabeth of Rochlitz and the Patient's Perspective in Early Modern Germany." Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 82 (2008): 109-144. Winner of the 2005 Richard Harrison Shryock medal for the best essay by a graduate student.
  • "Becoming an Expert Practitioner: Court Experimentalism and the Medical Skills of Anna of Saxony (1532-85)." Isis: Journal of the History of Science Society 98 (2007): 23-53.