By Cathy Hannabach

Blood Cultures: Medicine, Media, and Militarisms

How blood defined twentieth-century US empire from Alcatraz Island to Guantánamo Bay

In Blood Cultures, Cathy Hannabach shows how blood saturated the twentieth-century US cultural imaginary, slipped into laws and policies, flowed across screens, and seeped into our most intimate encounters.

About the book

Blood Cultures assembles and analyzes a rich archive bridging science studies, popular culture, and anti-racist feminist and queer politics.

Chapters engage blood quantum rules, immigration and asylum law, transnational feminist blood art, epidemiological maps of disease, global health AIDS policies, Cold War vampire films, blood testing and sterilization practices, and activist blood drive campaigns.

Hannabach traces how these gendered, sexualized, and racialized blood practices were violently mobilized in the service of US empire, as well as creatively transformed by feminist, anticolonial, anticapitalist, and queer artists and activists.

Ultimately, Blood Cultures demonstrates why it is not a coincidence that “the American century” is simultaneously known as “the bloodiest century.”

Both material and metaphoric, both life and death, blood has defined US empire from Alcatraz Island to Guantánamo Bay.

Main gate for the Los Alamos project: Small white building in a desert with signs announcing that passes must be presented to guards
Cartoon black, red, and white image of Dracula

How does blood circulate? Not simply in bodies, but through politics and over maps and across media?

These are the questions that are central to Cathy Hannabach’s stunning multi-disciplinary, transnational analysis of the role of blood in giving life to American modernity.

This book creates a narrative of the twentieth century, and a means of understanding the nation and its practices, from the American Red Cross to Guantanamo Bay.

— Eric Smoodin, author of Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950

Table of Contents

Introduction: Blood Cultures

Introducing Blood Cultures’ central argument, this introduction lays out exactly how and why blood has served not merely as a metaphor but as a deeply material condition for the production of US nationalism and empire.

Indeed, the movement between the metaphoric (where blood stands in for kinship, reproduction, violence, and war, among other things) and the material (blood donation and banking practices, blood transfusions and blood products, blood testing and typing) is, Hannabach argues, what defines US national identity across the twentieth century.

Bleeding Identities: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Blood Drive Activism

Chapter 1 analyzes how race and sexuality were mobilized in twentieth-century blood drive activism, revealing conflicting interests between donors, recipients, and regulators.

Contextualizing such conflicts in the history of blood transfusion and the rise of blood banking, Hannabach engages key moments in which blood banking and a “national blood supply” rose to public concern: post-World War I blood banking associations influenced by eugenics, the racial segregation of the blood supply during World War II, 1980s hemophilia and Haitian activism around AIDS, and a twenty-first century queer blood drive in New York that drew on these histories.

Cartographies of Blood and Violence

Chapter 2 examines the role of blood and maps in constructing US national boundaries and traces the ways land and blood have been mapped in US citizenship law, art, medicine, and social justice activism.

Hannabach offers case studies of blood art by Cuban American feminist artist Ana Mendieta; federal blood quantum policy defining African Americans, Native Americans, and native Hawaiians; the 1969 Native American occupation of Alcatraz; and epidemiology maps depicting AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Hannabach argues that maps reveal the ways US national identity has been defined and challenged through cartographies of land and blood.

Technologies of Blood: The Biopolitics of Asylum

Chapter 3 focuses on incarceration and forced sterilization of HIV-positive Haitian refugees at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Hannabach shows how Haitian refugees’ blood became the site of international anxieties in the Caribbean over legal sovereignty, biopolitics, citizenship, AIDS, and reproductive rights.

Hannabach reads US asylum law and the HIV antibody blood test as confession technologies that seek to parse “good, truthful” desirable bodies from “bad, deceptive” bodies threatening to contaminate the body politic. Further, the chapter shows how American immigration prisons form a blood-based “penal archipelago” that harnesses race, sexuality, class, and gender norms to bolster US empire.

Blood and the Bomb: Atomic Cities, Nuclear Kinship, and Queer Vampires

Chapter 4 considers how national anxieties over communism, queerness, and nuclear war were mobilized in vampire films set during the Cold War.

The chapter focuses on two case studies: the 1973 public health film The Return of Count Spirochete, produced by the US Navy to educate soldiers about sexually transmitted diseases, and Matt Reeves’s 2010 film Let Me In, a nostalgic Cold War vampire story set in 1980s suburban Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Hannabach argues that queer possibilities lurk in the way these films represent blood, sex, race, and kinship.

Conclusion: Sanguinary Futures

The concluding chapter of Blood Cultures extends the questions raised throughout the book into the twenty-first century.

Examining the rise of neoliberal blood security policies, Hannabach argues that the twentieth century isn’t over yet. Here in the twenty-first century, we inhabit a geopolitical terrain forged in the “bloodiest century” that was simultaneously the “American century” of empire.

The chapter offers an extended reading of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and argues that despite its global health and humanitarian rhetoric, PEPFAR links blood, sex, and race to expand US empire and war.

Cathy Hannabach assembles an impressive interdisciplinary archive to explore important questions in twentieth century US political and cultural histories.

Analyzing blood as both metaphor and material practice, Hannabach’s inventive, lively, and important book examines the relationship between race, gender/sexuality, and national belonging in popular culture, medicine, and in the military.

Essential reading for transnational American studies, gender and sexuality studies, and science and technology studies.

— Julie Sze, author of Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis