Faculty Snapshot: Merlin Chowkwanyun

Three photos of Merlin; one with a large stuffed animal, one wearing a Britney Spears tshirt, and one with a player from the Lakers.

Tell us about your work.
I'm a historian of medicine and public health who studies political controversies and social movements around health in the 20th century United States. I have also written extensively on racial inequality and the various ways in which people have and haven't framed the problem. I run a database called ToxicDocs.org, which is the worlds' largest collection of once-secret documents on industrial poisons. I have taught classes on research methods, the non-biomedical determinants of health, and health activism. The last is my favorite: we go through major movements, past and present, and discuss what strategies worked and why (and vice versa). Go Lakers!

What have you been listening to lately? Can you recommend a podcast, album, or artist?
I highly recommend Time to Say Goodbye. It's a podcast that my historian friend Andrew "Bruce" Liu from college (CC'05!) hosts with Jay Kang and Tammy Kim, two journalists. It discusses Asian-American politics but connects it to larger debates on social justice. It's been really useful for thinking through the tumultuous events of last year, COVID, economics, anti-Black racism, anti-immigrant nativism, and so forth. Despite the weighty subject matter, they keep it informal, and when appropriate, light-hearted. I highly recommend it to everyone. It's developed a very large and loyal listenership in a short amount of time, and it's great to see more Asian-Americans getting a chance to opine on major issues of the day.

On a lighter note: LADY GAGA's album, CHROMATICA! This is one of her best albums. In addition to the great music, there are nice interludes where she discusses her artistic process.

Are you currently looking for collaborators? If so, what types of collaborations are you seeking?
Yes! I'm really interested in people who are using technology for civic innovation and to help activists, whether it's very local (using digitized property records to shed light on landlord abuses) or very global (thinking about how to re-distribute clean energy efficiently and cheaply). We often hear—rightly—about the dystopian and terrible side of new technological innovation, but not enough about where it can actually advance the public good. I think the "civic tech" field is burgeoning and exciting to be part of.


If you would like to know more about Dr. Chowkwanyun's research, please visit his website or email him directly.