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Kara Swanson

Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History; Associate Dean for Research and Interdisciplinary Education

School of Law

Professor Swanson is an accomplished scholar, legal practitioner and scientist whose chief interests are in intellectual property law, gender and sexuality, the history of science, medicine, and technology and legal history. In 2015, she received one of Northeastern’s most prestigious prizes, the Robert D. Klein University Lectureship, which is awarded to a member of the faculty across the university who has obtained distinction in his or her field of study. Professor Swanson was awarded the 2018 History of Science Society’s Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize in recognition of her article, “Rubbing Elbows and Blowing Smoke: Gender, Class and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Patent Office,” published in ISIS: A Journal of the History of Science Society.

Professor Swanson’s research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, among other funding organizations. Professor Swanson’s scholarship has earned multiple awards, including honors from the Society for the History of Technology, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Iowa Historical Society. Her current book project investigates the relationship between the patent system and American nationhood and citizenship by examining the ways in which women and African Americans, in support of their movements for full political and social equality, sought to demonstrate their inventive capacities.

Before coming to Northeastern, Professor Swanson was the Berger-Howe Fellow in Legal History at Harvard Law School and associate professor at Drexel University School of Law. In addition to her numerous publications in law reviews and peer-reviewed journals, Professor Swanson published a book on property in the human body in 2014, in which she uses the history of law and medicine to explore contemporary debates in the use of body parts. The book, Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk and Sperm in Modern America, was published by Harvard University Press. She was selected as the 2020 Arthur Molella Distinguished Fellow by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to support her project, “Inventing Citizens: Race, Gender, and Patents.”

Trained as a biochemist and molecular biologist at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, Professor Swanson earned her PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2009. Before entering law school, she was a published research scientist. After graduating from law school, she served as an associate at Dechert, where she maintained an intellectual property law practice and was involved in drafting and negotiating technology licenses, advising biotech and computer services and software start-ups on protection of their inventions and drafting and prosecuting patents as a registered patent attorney. She clerked for the Hon. Cecil F. Poole of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge William H. Orrick Jr., of the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

Additional information available here.

  • Education

    Yale University, BS 1987
    University of California, Berkeley, MA 1988
    University of California, Berkeley, JD 1992
    Harvard University, PhD 2009

  • Contact

  • Address

    41 Cargill Hall
    400 Huntington Avenue,
    Boston, MA 02115