CFP: PANDEMIC LEGACIES. Health, Healing and Medicine in the Age of Slavery and Beyond


October 7-8, 2021

Taking its cue from exciting new directions in slavery studies as well as our current health crisis, the virtual 2021 Lapidus Center Conference Pandemic Legacies will explore a variety of critical issues in the history of health, healing, and medicine in the age of Atlantic slavery via a combination of keynote conversations and panel sessions. 

Just as the slave trade tied together the cultures and populations of four continents, it also wed together distinctive disease ecologies. The lack of local populations with exploitable labor in the Americas compelled an increase in the volume of Africans that Europeans forced into the transatlantic slave trade, setting the stage for epidemic diseases and other health issues that shaped the cultural, social, and material life of Atlantic slavery. Genocidal warfare and the destructive effects of Eurasian African epidemic diseases caused the near decimation of Indigenous populations. Yellow fever, a virus native to tropical West Africa, became a common scourge to American ports. Doctors theorizing about the virus developed racial stereotypes that posited that people of African descent were inherently immune to the virus, setting the stage for a range of healthcare disparities that reverberate today.

In the last decade, a growing number of historians and other scholars have begun to grapple with a range of cultural, social, and material conditions that impacted health and healthcare under the slave system, providing significant insight into the care or lack of care for the lives (and deaths) of enslaved people. Impressive studies include those on enslaved healers in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States; analyses of how enslaved labor caused a host of disabilities for enslaved workers; and examinations of how enslaved laborers’ health on plantations informed racist ideas of Blackness meant to naturalize enslavement amidst abolitionist challenges.

The growth in this field and the urgency of our current moment wherein the confluence of COVID-19 and current reckonings around a range of  injustices, have made it clear that public conversations about race, health, and healing in the age of slavery are quite necessary. We invite abstracts on related topics. 

Topics may include, but are not limited to the following:

Disability histories of slavery

African diasporic healing and harming practices

Gender roles and caregiving during slavery in the Atlantic world

Gynecology and maternal health

Health, disease, and the construction of medical racism

The role of capitalism in shaping the health of plantation slavery

Enslaved communities’ responses to epidemic disease

Narratives that uncover how enslaved patients’ asserted their agency 

African diasporic death, afterlife, and interment beliefs

Slavery and the rise of the Eurasian African medical profession. (Note that medicine is used to describe a distinct, self-naming Eurasian African healing sect      spanning from Europe through the Islamic World)

Competition between enslaved healers and doctors of European descent

The role of the state in regulating the health of the slave system

African diasporic botanicals in the creation of Atlantic materia medica (early pharmacology)

Epidemic disease and rural labor in the present

Echoes of enslavement in COVID-19

The future of epidemics and racial inequity

By May 7, 2021 (extended deadline), please submit your 500-word panel or 250-word individual paper abstract to the attention of Dr. Michelle Commander, Associate Director and Curator of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at lapidusconference at gmail dot com.

Decisions will be sent in June. 

Read more about the NYPL/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Lapidus Center here:


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