Faculty Directory


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


Professor Swanson is an accomplished scholar, legal practitioner, and scientist whose chief interests are in intellectual property law, property, gender and sexuality, race and racism, the history of science, medicine, and technology, and legal history. In 2021, she was selected for the Law & Society Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize, which recognizes exceptional scholarship in the field of race, racism and the law, for her essay, “Race and Selective Legal Memory: Reflections on ‘Invention of a Slave’.” Professor Swanson received one of Northeastern’s most prestigious prizes in 2015, 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.  In 2022, her article “Inventing the Woman Voter:  Suffrage, Ability, and Patents,” published in Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, received the Martha Trescott Prize from the Society of the History of Technology.

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, and has been a visiting professor at Boston University School of Law. In 2024, she will be the Don Trow Visiting Fellow, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. 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.”  In 2023-24, she will continue her research on this planned book with fellowships at the Linda Hall Library and the Science History Institute, and spend the year in residence as a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

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.  From 2021-23, she served as associate dean for research and interdisciplinary education at the School of Law.

Fields of Expertise

  • Copyright Law
  • History of Science
  • Intellectual Property
  • Legal History
  • Medicine and Technology
  • Patent Law

Selected Works

Kara W. Swanson

Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History


41 Cargill Hall
416 Huntington Avenue
@KaraWSwanson @karawswanson@mastodon.social Curriculum Vitae BePress Selected Works SSRN Author Page