Wednesday, May 6, 2020
David W. Blight, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, talks with Assistant Professor Carolyn Roberts on Race, Health, and Medicine during the COVID 19 global pandemic.
Carolyn Roberts is an historian of medicine with a joint appointment in the departments of History/History of Science and Medicine and African American Studies. Professor Roberts’ research interests concern early modern medicine, where she explores themes of race and slavery, natural history and botany, and African indigenous knowledge in the Atlantic world.
Professor Roberts is currently working on a book project called “To Heal and To Harm: Medicine, Knowledge, and Power in the Atlantic Slave Trade.” This manuscript represents the first full-length study of the history of medicine in the British slave trade. The book’s narrative is centered around the pharmaceutical and medical labor performed by a largely unknown group of African and British women and men, both enslaved and free. In studying their labor, her project illustrates how the slave trade functioned as an insidious, and even ghostly, knowledge project which pushed the boundaries of pharmacy, surgery, and natural history. Professor Roberts vividly traces how the slave trade contributed to the development of the pharmaceutical industry, the modernization of medicine, and the advancement of natural history.
Professor Roberts is an award-winning educator who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the history of medicine from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Her classes explore medicine, natural history, and epistemology in the context of early modern empires, slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and in African American history more broadly. Professor Roberts’ teaching also blends history with medical sociology in order to explore present-day crises of race and health.