Program Schedule for Pandemic Legacies Conference

By Lisa Herndon, Manager, Schomburg Communications and Publications
September 21, 2021
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
 Health, Healing, and Medicine in the Age of Slavery and Beyond, Schomburg Center logo at the bottom of the images and the plant with leaves on the right side.

The virtual 2021 Lapidus Center Conference, Pandemic Legacies: Health, Healing, and Medicine in the Age of Slavery and Beyond,  explored medicine in the age of Atlantic slavery via a combination of keynote conversations and panel sessions. It took place from October 6 through October 8.

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.

If you missed the conference, you can visit the Center's Livestream channel to watch each conversation.


Welcome and Opening Plenary

6–6:30 PM | Welcome from Michelle D. Commander, Associate Director and Curator of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery and Joy Bivins, Director of the Schomburg Center

6:30–8 PM | “Covid-19 and the Ghosts of Eugenics Past”

  • William Horne, Villanova University
  • Kathleen Brian, Western Washington University
  • Ayah Nuriddin, Princeton University
  • Moderator: Rana A. Hogarth, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

View on Livestream


8:30–10 AM 

Session 1: Slavery, Race, and Medicine in Cuba

  • Elena Barattini, Università degli Studi di Torino (Italy), “Enslaved Women, Embodied Sevicia, and the Law: Impairment and Emancipation in Colonial Cuba”
  • Madhuvanti Mukherjee, Independent Scholar, To Heal or to Harm? Examining Medical Dimensions of the Slave Trade in Early Nineteenth Century Cuba”
  • Farren Yero, Duke University, “Which Stranger's Disease? Yellow Fever, Vaccine Technology, and the Racial Politics of Immunity in Nineteenth-Century Cuba”
  • Moderator: Elise A. Mitchell, Princeton University

View on Livestream

Session 2: Health and Healing in Literary Imaginings of Slavery

  • Michele S. Frank, Independent Scholar, “Topographies of Healing in Beloved and Mama Day”
  • Tatiana Konrad, University of Vienna (Austria), “Graphic Storytelling: Visualizing Health, Progress, and Race”
  • Jennifer Leetsch, University of Bonn (Germany), “Mary Seacole’s Many Medicines: Black Atlantic Botanical Knowledges in Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands” (1857)”

View on Livestream

10:30 AM–11 AM: BREAK

11 AM–12:30 PM: SESSIONS 3 AND 4 

Session 3: Producing Healing and Medical Knowledge in the Age of Slavery

  • Mary Hicks, University of Chicago, “Blood and Hair: Barbers, Sangradores and the West African Corporeal Imagination in Salvador da Bahia, 1793-1843”
  • Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa, “Black Bodies, Medical Science, and the Age of Emancipation”
  • Chelsea Berry, Randolph College, “Poisoned Relations: Medical Choices and Poison Accusations within Enslaved Communities”
  • Moderator: Christopher D.E. Willoughby, The Huntington Library and Harvard University

View on Livestream

Session 4: Conceptualizing Healing through the African American Experience of Historical Trauma

  • Zuleka R. Henderson, The Center for Black Well-Being at Graymatters Medical Practice Tricia Stephens, Hunter College
  • Anna Ortega-Williams, Hunter College
  • Quenette L. Walton, University of Houston

View on Livestream

12:30–1 PM BREAK

1–2:30 PM 


  • Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
  • Sharla Fett, Occidental College
  • Rana A. Hogarth, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Moderator: Michelle D. Commander, Associate Director and Curator of the Lapidus Center

View on Livestream

2:30–3 PM: BREAK

3–4:30 PM: SESSIONS 5 AND 6

Session 5: Maternal Health

  • Lorena Telles, UNICAMP (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil), “Enslaved Women and Childbirth Amid Doctors and Masters in Rio de Janeiro”
  • Katherine Bankole-Medina, Coppin State University, “The Scholarly Reckoning upon Us: The Racist and Sexist Medical Exploitation of Enslaved Black Women and Girls and the Contemporary Discourse on Pandemic Racism and Wellness”
  • Tânia Salgado Pimenta, Casa de Oswaldo Cruz - Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Brazil), “Midwifery and Childbirth among Enslaved and Freed Women in Rio de Janeiro in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century”

View on Livestream

Session 6: Slavery, Race, and the Climate

  • Suman Seth, Cornell University, “‘That Pliability of Functions by Which Man is Rendered a Cosmopolite’: Race, Slavery, and Disability in the Nineteenth Century British Empire”
  • Ian Read, Soka University of America,“Racial Fevers: Yellow Fever, Race, and Climate in Brazilian History”
  • Sean Morey Smith, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Lapidus Center Fellow), “The Rush to Race: Benjamin Rush and Climatic-Racial Arguments against Slavery”

View on Livestream

4:30–5 PM: BREAK

5–6:30: SESSIONS 7 AND 8Session 7: Traditional Healing

  • Anne S. Bouie, Artist and Independent Scholar, “Hoein’, Harvestin’, Healin’, & Hexin’: The Earth and its Cultivation as Tools of Resistance to Enslavement”
  • Aldair Rodrigues, UNICAMP - State University of Campinas (Brazil), “Body Modification as Healing Practice Utilized by West Africans in Colonial Brazil”
  • Junia Furtado, “Quigila: An African Disease in the Context of the Brazilian Atlantic Slave Trade”
  • Moderator: Sharla Fett, Occidental College

View on Livestream

Session 8: Disability as a Critical Category of Historical Analysis: A Roundtable Discussion of Jenifer L. Barclay’s The Mark of Slavery

  • Jennifer Barclay, University at Buffalo
  • Wangui Muigai, Brandeis University
  • Moderator: Christopher D.E. Willoughby, The Huntington Library and Harvard University

View on Livestream


10–11:30 AM: SESSIONS 9 AND 10 |

  • Session 9: "Trans-Atlantic Epidemics and the Spaces of Slavery Beyond National Borders”
  • Manuel Barcia, University of Leeds, “Yellow Fever Epidemics in West and West Central Africa, 1823-1837”
  • Oscar de la Torre, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, “‘Consciously Breaking the Cordon Sanitaire’: Smallpox Epidemics and the Carcerial Regime of Slavery in Matanzas, Cuba, 1850-1898”
  • Danielle Terrazas Williams, University of Leeds, “‘[We] want to avoid the heat and the continuous plague of mosquitos’: Black Geographies and Disease in Seventeenth-Century Veracruz”
  • Michael D. Thompson, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, “Slavery, Race, and Yellow Fever Work in Antebellum New Orleans”
  • Moderator: Rana A. Hogarth, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

View on Livestream

Session 10: Psychiatry and Mental Health in the Shadow of the Plantation

  • Kylie M. Smith, Emory University, “‘He was running it like a plantation’: Disability, psychiatry, and Civil Rights in Southern Asylums”
  • Jonathan Jones, Virginia Military Institute, “Black Civil War Veterans, Opioids, and Addiction”
  • Élodie Edwards-Grossi, “A Patient Labor: The Naturalisation of Racialized Work in Psychiatric Hospitals for Black Patients in the U.S. South in the Early 20th Century”
  • Moderator: Eric Herschthal, University of Utah

View on Livestream

11:30 AM–12 PM: BREAK 

12 PM–1:30 PM: SESSIONS 11 AND 12 

Session 11: Reading Slavery through the Archives of Healing

  • Lauren (Robin) Derby, University of California-Los Angeles, “From Zemis to Zombies: Amerindian Healing Legacies on Hispaniola”
  • Elise A. Mitchell, Princeton University, “Unbelievable Suffering: Rethinking Feigned Illness in Slavery and the Slave Trade”
  • Brandi M. Waters, College Board, “Medicalizing Manumission: Slavery, Disability, and Medical Testimony in Late Colonial Colombia”
  • Moderator: Sean Morey Smith, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Lapidus Center Fellow)

View on Livestream

Session 12: A Roundtable Discussion of The Science Of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became The Enemies Of Progress

  • Eric Herschthal, University of Utah
  • Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
  • Sasha Turner, Johns Hopkins University

View on Livestream

1:30–2 PM: BREAK 

2–3:30 PM: SESSIONS 13 AND 14 

SESSION 13: Displaying Race and Difference in Slavery's Popular and Medical Museums

  • Izetta Mobley, “‘Polymorphous & Perverse’: Slavery, Racial Enfreakment, and Conjoinment”
  • Lívia Maria Tiéde, Rice University/UNICAMP - Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Brazil), “From Jacinta to Raymunda: The Public Display of a Black Mummy in the Age of Emancipation in Brazil (1900-1929) and Its Consequences for the Public Memory of Slavery”
  • Christopher D.E. Willoughby, The Huntington Library and Harvard University, “Collected without Consent: European Colonialism and American Medical Education in the Age of Slavery”
  • Moderator: Ian Read, Soka University of America

View on Livestream

SESSION 14: Disability and Enslaved Labor in the Caribbean and U.S. South

  • Linsey McMillan, The University of Edinburgh (UK), “‘Working in the Weakly Gang’: Health, Disability, and Labour in Trinidad and British Guiana, 1823-1834”
  • Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy, University of New Brunswick (Canada), ‘To wander about and become burthensome to others’: Disability and Amelioration in the British Caribbean”
  • William D. Jones, Rice University, “Disease, Death, and the United States Domestic Slave Trade to the Lower Mississippi River Valley”
  • Moderator: Jennifer Barclay, University at Buffalo

View on Livestream

3:30–4 PM: BREAK

4–5:30 PM 


  • Deirdre Cooper Owens, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Moderator: Michelle D. Commander, Associate Director and Curator of the Lapidus Center

View on Livestream


Conference Schedule as of September 17, 2021

Updated: October 8. 2021

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