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James Mohr

College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History and Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Sciences
Phone: 541-346-4802
Office: 350 McKenzie Hall


I have long been interested in the history of American social policy.  Those interests led me to focus on two principal subjects that I teach and write about:  (1) the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction (perhaps the most tumultuous era of radical social change in our history) and (2) the social history of medicine and health in the US (since medical professionals have been influential drivers of social policy).  I have testified twice before the United States Senate as an expert witness on the history of social policies.  I also teach courses on the historical roots of American identity and on nineteenth-century legal and political developments.


  • American professions and nineteenth-century social policy
  • History of Public Health


  • Licensed to Practice: The Supreme Court Defines the American Medical Profession (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) tells the dramatic story behind the 1889 Supreme Court case that legalized the licensing of physicians in the US and also looks at the profound impact of that decision on the subsequent development of this nation's unique medical system.

  • New Perspectives on Public Health Policy (Penn State Press, 2008):  a book of essays in which several scholars put US public health policy into comparative and international contexts.

  • Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 Burning of Honolulu's Chinatown (Oxford University Press, 2005): a dramatic tale involving an epidemic of bubonic plague, ethnic and racial tensions, American imperial designs, and the greatest civic catastrophe ever to result from the action of public health officials.  This book won the Oregon book award.

  • Adams and Adams, Chapters of Erie (Waveland Press, 2002): a reisssue of classic political essays about corporate corruption in the Reconstruction period, edited with a new introduction by Professor Mohr.

  • "American Medical Malpractice Litigation in Historical Perspective," JAMA, Vol. 283, No. 13 (April 5, 2000), 1731-1737.

  • "The Paradoxical Advance and Embattled Retreat of the 'Unsound Mind': Evidence of Insanity and the Adjudication of Wills in Nineteenth-Century America," Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Fall 1998), 415-436.

  • Doctors and the Law: Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 1993; Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996): a look at how nineteenth-century American courts and legislatures dealt with medico-legal issues and how the professions of medicine and law dealt with each other.
  • "Iowa's Abortion Battles of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s:  Long-term Perspectives and Short-term Analyses," Annals of Iowa, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Summer 1989), 63-89.  This article won the Throne-Aldrich Award.
  • The Cormany Diaries: A Northern Family in the Civil War (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982, 1990): the only known pair of husband-and-wife diaries from an ordinary couple going through the extraordinary events of the Civil War - he in Union cavalry and she trying to make do alone on the home front.
  • Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy,1800-1900 (Oxford University Press, 1978, 1980): recounts the process by which the US shifted from being a society in which abortion was openly tolerated, even advertised, in the early decades of the century to being a society that proscribed abortion as a criminal offense by the final decades of the century.  This history has figured prominently in several US Supreme Court decisions, and Professor Mohr has twice testified to the US Senate as an expert historical witness on reproductive rights issues.
  • Radical Republicans in the North: State Politics During Reconstruction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976): this book , another collection of essays by mutliple scholars, looks at what was happening in Northern states at a time when the nation's attention was focused primarily on the South.
  • The Radical Republicans and Reform in New York During Reconstruction (Cornell University Press, 1973): an analysis of changes in social policy undertaken by the victorious Republicans of New York State, who attempted, but ultimately failed to pull off their own Reconstruction at home.