Keith A. Wailoo

Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs
Office Phone
216 Dickinson Hall
Office Hours

On Leave 2024–2025


Keith Wailoo ( is Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs. He is jointly appointed in the Department of History and in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He is former Vice Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs, former Chair of History, and former President of the American Association for the History of Medicine (2020-2022). His research straddles history and health policy, touching on drugs and drug policy, on the politics of race and health, on the interplay of identity, ethnicity, gender, and medicine, and on controversies in genetics and society.

In 2021, he received the Dan David Prize for his "influential body of historical scholarship focused on race, science, and health equity; on the social implications of medical innovation; and on the politics of disease" and was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  His writings have advanced historical and public understanding on a range of topics: racial disparities in health care, the cultural politics of pain and opioids, how pandemic change societies, and the FDA's decision to ban menthol cigarettes.

His most recent book is Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette (University of Chicago Press, 2021), which received the 2023 Hughes Prize from the British Society for the History of Science for its "originality and timeliness... incisive commentary... [and] meticulous research to uncover the enmeshment of social sciences, racial exploitation, and corporate interests, with catastrophic consequences for public health in the United States."

In 2022-23, he co-chaired (with Keith Yamamoto) a National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine committee which produced the 2023 report Toward Equitable Innovation in Health and Medicine: A Framework. The report presents a national governance framework to align emerging science, technology, and innovation in health and medicine with equity.

Professor Wailoo award-winning books include:

Before joining the Princeton faculty, Professor Wailoo taught in History and in Social Medicine (in the Medical School at UNC Chapel Hill), and at Rutgers University where he was Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of History and jointly affiliated with the History department and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. He holds a Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from Yale University. 

In 2007 he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, and he is the recipient of numerous other academic honors.

History Informing Health Policy

Wailoo’s work has shaped public understanding and informed health care policy on pressing current concerns. Recent published articles and essays include:

He has written for the New York Times ("Better Living Through Pills"), Vice News, The Daily Beast, ("The Pain Gap: Why Doctors Offer Less Relief to Black Patients"), The Lancet, the Bulletin for the History of Medicine, the Journal for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, and the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, American Prospect. He has spoken widely on history, drug policy, and health politics on NPR programs ("The Politics of Pain," KERA), Freakonomics Radio ("Bad Medicine"), on C-SPAN, on Capitol Hill (Congressional Briefing on drug policy), and the Tavis Smiley Show.  His research has been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund.

In 2021, he co-produced for Science magazine a podcast series on Race and Science, drawing attention to new impactful books across multiple fields.

His other works in public policy include:

Reports for the National Academy of Medicine

  • In 2022-23, co-chaired committee that produced Toward Equitable Innovation: A Framework (2023)
  • In 2015-16, he served on the Institute of Medicine Committee to advise the Food and Drug Administration on Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques: Ethical, Social, and Policy Considerations (2016). 
  • In 2005-6, he served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Increasing Rates of Organ Donation, contributing to its report, Organ Donation: Opportunities for Action (2006). 

He has served on the advisory board of the Center for Health Care Strategies; the National Advisory Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Investigator Award in Health Policy Research and the RWJ Foundation’s Health and Society program; the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine; and the Greenwall Foundation Faculty Scholars Program.

Professor Wailoo is currently at work on a new book on a 19th century murder trial set in the plantation South on the cusp of the Civil War -- a story about slavery and racial accusation that touches on questions of poisoning, medical care in the midst of an epidemic, gender, and law in slave society. He is also working on a short history of addiction.

Class Day 2020 Lecture: "The Mask: Historical Reflections on Personal Protective Equipment, with Lessons for the COVID-19 Era"


Area of Interest
African American
Cultural History
History & Public Policy
History of Technology
Intellectual History
Legal History
Medicine & Health
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
Princeton School of Public & International Affairs
19th Century
20th Century
21st Century
North America
United States