Project Proposal – YSM & Slavery

The Yale School of Medicine (YSM) has recently undertaken a historical investigation of its ties to slavery and related patterns of racial discrimination. While some medical schools’ histories of supporting slavery or contributing to racial science are well known, Yale’s history has largely gone unexamined because unlike Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania it has no obvious “smoking gun.” Examining YSM’s historical ties to slavery, racial capitalism, and scientific and medical racism, therefore, can reveal how a medical school located in New England and not readily identified with slavery and racial science had a relationship with these topics. However, any story of YSM’s ties to slavery and racism are also part of the city of New Haven’s, the state of Connecticut’s, the region of New England’s, and the United States’ history of slavery and race. It is a history of more than just medicine, and it must be shared with the larger public.

To share findings of YSM’s historical ties to slavery and racism, we propose to build a website composed of vignettes illustrating moments where the medical school’s ties to slavery and racism were particularly apparent. Vignettes will include examples of racism in medical lectures, textbooks, and MD theses; instances demonstrating the vulnerability of people of color to being used for medical experimentation or to having their bodies taken for dissection; and cases of professors, students, and alumni benefitting from owning enslaved people or promoting slavery. The site will demonstrate how a medical school not usually linked with racial science and in an area often associated with abolitionism could still scientifically and medically support the belief in innate racial difference and benefit from slavery financially and materially. It will contribute to ongoing discussions about how medicine as a field and YSM as a specific institution can undo their sometimes painful legacies.

The website will be built using a common web publishing platform such as WordPress. The homepage will include an introduction that contextualizes the findings of the YSM and slavery project, describing how YSM was part of a national culture that accepted slavery and racism and yet must take responsibility for its own specific involvement. The landing page will also prepare visitors for the sometimes emotionally jarring and potentially traumatizing stories recounted in the vignettes. Individual vignettes will be on their own pages and will be linked from the homepage in an open, unstructured way intended to invite individual exploration of the topics most compelling to each visitor to the site. Individual vignette pages will consist predominantly of essays with images related to their content, especially images of the sources used to recover the stories. Additionally, maps contextualizing the vignettes and locating YSM in New Haven and the wider world will be built with ArcGIS StoryMaps. The StoryMaps will either be embedded in or linked from the individual vignette pages.

The website will engage three rough categories of visitors: medical professionals and others with institutional ties to YSM; New Haven community members; and high school, college, and medical students. Medical professionals, especially those with educational and institutional ties to YSM, will want to be informed of past problems and also positive moments in the school’s history so that they can improve the institution, make progress toward remedying past abuse and neglect, and improve their own professional caregiving. New Haveners, especially those of color, will visit the website with the hope of receiving acknowledgement of past wrongs, for a potential source of closure, and with the desire for YSM to support their community transparently and fairly. Students will visit the site to learn about the entangled how the history of medical education is entangled with racism and slavery. They will likely be the most interested in contextualizing YSM’s history within regional and national contexts.