OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Deirdre Cooper Owens

Portrait of Deirdre Cooper Owens
Image Credit: Nikki Moore Photography

Deirdre Cooper Owens is The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. Dr. Cooper Owens is the recipient of several prestigious honors in history and reproductive justice. An award-winning scholar, Dr. Cooper Owens’ first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology, won a OAH Darlene Clark Hine Award. She is currently writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability. Dr. Cooper Owens primarily teaches classes on the history of medicine, U.S. slavery, and women's history. A popular public speaker, she has lectured globally and continues to make a number of public appearances on national media outlets as an expert on issues of race and medicine, especially medical racism and disparities.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Black women's activism has always been centered in community and institution-building even in a nation that did not honor their humanity and labor. In this lecture, Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens moves from the colonial era to the nineteenth century with a focus on the activist legacy of Black women whose names are both known and unknown. She emphasizes how their social justice labor privileged freedom, democratic nation-making, and mutual aid continues to impact our country presently.
Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens moves between southern plantations and northern urban centers to reveal how nineteenth-century American ideas about race, health, and status influenced doctor-patient relationships in sites of healing like slave cabins, medical colleges, and hospitals. She retells the story of black enslaved women and Irish immigrant women from the perspective of these exploited groups and restores for us a picture of their lives.
This lecture provides practical advice on how to teach U.S slavery to teachers. Dr. Cooper Owens examines important themes like gender, race, and labor to reveal how teachers can better contextualize the age of slavery to students who need to know and understand the importance of this often fraught and emotionally heavy subject.