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News Deirdre Cooper Owens

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2020 Spring Warnock Lecture

Thursday, February 13, 2020, 7:00-8:30 pm. 116 Gore Hall. Reception to follow in the atrium.

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine & Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln / Director, Program in African American History at The Library Company of Philadelphia


"Archival records from America’s slave past yield many accounts of enslaved people’s physical abuse. These documents support historian Nell Irvin Painter’s assertion “that physical abuse and slavery go together.” To be certain, the scenes of brutal whippings that tend to dominate the imagery of slave violence in written form reveal only a portion of the narrative. An issue that begs further exploration is how did violence, in all of its manifestations, physical, sexual, and psychological, affect the mental state of enslaved people?  By the late 18th century, the problem of living with mentally ill Negroes was crucial enough for white Americans to begin hospitalizing them. Unsurprisingly, the first hospitals in this country were dedicated to warehousing and attempting to treat the mentally ill; the enslaved were among the earliest patients. How did the slaves’ perceptions of sights, sounds, touch, and taste influence their behavior as they tried to navigate insanity and sanity? Thus to be situated in slavery studies and medical history is to sit at the center of haptic studies. In order to understand the medical lives of enslaved people through “the perception and manipulation of them as objects by doctors who used their sense of touch,” we are confronted with how these physicians’ actions created another ethic of being in the world” for doctor and patient.  

History Colloquium

Friday, February 14, 2020, 12:30 PM to 1:45 PM

203 Munroe Hall

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens hopes to make haptic studies an integral methodological part of both slavery studies and the history of medicine. Although her book Medical Bondage does not deal explicitly with sensory knowledge, Cooper Owens will use the method to better understand the world the slaves made and the doctors paid to treat them. At the heart of her inquiry lies the critical question, when touch is mired in hierarchy and racial politics what can it tell us about the ways people constructed an ethic of being and knowledge about themselves and each other?

2020 Warnock Lecture and History Colloquium with Deirdre Cooper Owens February 13 and 14

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The Department of History is pleased to announce the 2020 Spring Warnock Lecture features Deirdre Cooper Owens on February 13 at 7:00pm in Gore 116

The Department of History is pleased to announce the 2020 Spring Warnock Lecture features Deirdre Cooper Owens on February 13 at 7:00pm in Gore Hall 116

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Deirdre Cooper Owens
  • Department of History
  • 46 W. Delaware Avenue
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • University of Delaware
  • Phone: 302-831-2371