Carolyn Roberts

Carolyn Roberts's picture
Assistant Professor, History of Science & History of Medicine; African American Studies
On leave: Fall 2020 through Spring 2021
Rm 303--81 Wall St., New Haven, CT 06511-6606


Dr. Carolyn Roberts is an historian of medicine and science at Yale University.  She holds a joint appointment in the departments of History/History of Science and Medicine, and African American Studies.  She also holds a secondary appointment at Yale School of Medicine in the Program in the History of Medicine.  Her research interests concern the relationship between race, science, and medicine in the context of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. 

Dr. Roberts is currently working on three book manuscripts.  The first, which us under contract with Harvard University Press, is called To Heal and To Harm: Medicine, Knowledge, and Power in the British Slave Trade.  The book traces the troubling relationship between the British slave trade and the development of modern medicine.  Roberts uncovers the stories of doctors, patients, apothecaries, and early pharmaceutical companies involved in this brutal form of human commerce.  The book vividly demonstrates how the seeds of ‘Big Pharma,’ new power dynamics in the doctor-patient relationship, and racial bias in medical care have roots in the slave trade. 

The second book manuscript is called Medicine and Slavery Unbound: New Methods and Approaches in a Time of Crisis.  Written for academics, medical professionals, and public health experts, this book is an interdisciplinary guidebook for those who wish to incorporate slavery and its medical and health legacies in their research, teaching, anti-racism curricula, and diversity initiatives.  In discussing scholarship published over the past one hundred years, Roberts engages with diverse fields such as gender and sexuality studies, environmental history, art history, literary studies, religious studies, bioethics, and archaeology, as well as historians working at the intersection of medicine, science, technology, and health.  

The third book manuscript is called Fatal Depression: Slavery, Melancholia, and Grief in the Atlantic World.  The book focuses on the relationship between enslavement, grief, trauma, and disease among newly arrived enslaved people.  Offering the first full-length study of the potentially fatal depressive disorders experienced by enslaved Africans, Roberts studies the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean, as well as colonial North America.  The book explores how enslaved Africans attended to grief and trauma, while importantly demonstrating how the racialization of mental illness took root in the 18th-century Atlantic world.

Dr. Roberts is an award-winning educator.  She is the 2021 recipient of Yale’s prestigious Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.  Dr. Roberts teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the history of race, science, and medicine from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries.  Her teaching blends history with medical sociology and public health to explore present-day crises of race and health.  

Dr. Roberts is also a popular workshop leader and speaker.  She brings critical historical perspectives to anti-racism interventions in science, medicine, and public health.  Dr. Roberts has worked with a variety of corporations, non-profit organizations, and institutions including PBS/NOVA, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Mt. Sinai Morningside, and several colleges and universities.  Her media appearances include the PBS/NOVA documentary The Violence Paradox and CNN.

Dr. Roberts received an M.A. and PhD from Harvard University, an M.A. from Andover Newton Theological School, and a B.A. from Dartmouth College.

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