Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor
Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College
A.B. with honors, History of Science, Harvard University, 1985
M.A., History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, 1987
Ph.D., History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, 1992
Sarah W. Tracy began teaching at the Honors College in 1999. She is an historian of medicine whose research extends into the related disciplines of food studies, medical sociology, health policy, and biography. Her research focuses on the relationship between diet (food and drink) and health and chronic disease in the United States between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.
Tracy is currently writing a biography of nutritional physiologist and cardiovascular epidemiologist Ancel Keys (1904-2004). Keys is best known as an early champion of the Mediterranean Diet. He also believed that diets rich in saturated fat caused heart disease, an idea known as the “diet-heart hypothesis.” Keys contributed to many areas of science, however. He organized the International High Altitude Expedition of 1935; developed the U.S. Army's K-Ration; and conducted the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment to help guide post-WWII re-feeding efforts in Europe. A subject in I.Q. psychologist Lewis Terman’s longitudinal study of 1500 “gifted” children, Keys felt the weight of high expectations throughout his life. As the nephew of silent screen star Lon Chaney, Keys also filmed all of his scientific work and was a first-rate publicist, frequently writing for popular audiences. In 1959, he and his wife Margaret Haney Keys published a best-selling cookbook, Eat Well and Stay Well. This volume was revised and re-published as Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way in 1975 and was among the first books to popularize the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. Tracy’s biography Health Revolutionary: The Life and Science of Ancel Keys is on schedule for completion in 2018.
Tracy’s first book was a biography of a disease, alcoholism. Alcoholism in America from Reconstruction to Prohibition was published in 2005 (paperback in 2007) by Johns Hopkins University Press. In 2004, Tracy co-edited with Caroline Jean Acker a collection of essays entitled Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000 (University of Massachusetts Press). She has also co-edited with Australian historian Alison Bashford a special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine (Winter 2012) devoted to the evolving relationship between climate and human health. Her essay on Ancel Keys and the International High Altitude Expedition of 1935 features in this issue.
Tracy teaches courses for honors students and medical students on historical and ethical issues in American medicine and public health; food in American culture; the development of global, national, and local food systems; the history of alcohol and drug use in the United States, the sociology of science, and biography as a vehicle for exploring science and American history. Working with the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tracy built and continues to direct the University of Oklahoma Medical Humanities Program, which features both a minor in the medical humanities and an 8-year combined BA-MD Medical Humanities Scholars Program.
Sarah Tracy earned her Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining the Honors College, she taught at the Universities of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Yale. In 2008, she was a visiting professor in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard. Tracy has received numerous awards and fellowships, including those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Library of Medicine, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institute for Mental Health, the New York Academy of Medicine, the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard’s Countway Medical Library, and the American Association of University Women. She is a former council member of the American Association for the History of Medicine and a former chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges Group on Combined Baccalaureate-MD Programs, and currently sits on the Advisory Editorial Board of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.
A former bike racer and an avid hiker, Tracy organized her own expedition to the Chilean Andes in 2011 to retrace the footsteps of the Keys-organized journey to 20,000 feet and the International High Altitude Expedition of 1935.