Health Professions Advising Office (HPAO)

University of Mississippi

Fortune History Symposium Examines Science, Medicine and Making of Race

Exploring the intersection of scientific ideas about race and gender with medical practice and experimentation, the annual Porter L. Fortune Jr. History Symposium convenes March 8-10 at the University of Mississippi.

The conference, titled “Science, Medicine and the Making of Race,” is sponsored by the UM Department of History. Londa Schiebinger, the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University, is the keynote speaker for the three-day event. Her talk, set for 5 p.m. March 9 in the Yerby Center Auditorium, isfree and open to the public.The focus of this year’s symposium is on addressing medical research on nonwhite bodies between the 18th and 20th centuries.

“My colleague, Theresa Levitt, and I decided upon the theme for this year’s symposium because there is so much fine scholarship being produced on medicine and the making of race,” said Deirdre Cooper Owens, assistant professor of history and conference co-coordinator. “We especially thought this year’s Porter Fortune symposium would be especially salient for the University of Mississippi community as we have ended a discussion on Henrietta Lacks, race and scientific research.”

While the symposium is geared mainly toward specialists, anyone curious about broad themes such as race, gender and science is welcome.
“We hope that the keynote address will be widely attended with members of the general public,” said Levitt, associate professor of history. “The sessions will draw together historians of science, medicine and anyone interested in these issues. I hope that it will be useful to talk with someone working on similar topics, from a different perspective.”

Owens said her hope is that panel participants will see how the university, especially its history department, is producing exciting new scholarship on race, gender, science and the history of medicine.

“Professionally, I believe scholars will be able to assess new trends in the history-of-medicine field and investigate how institutions like slavery, colonial settlements and even politicized movements have helped to either develop or influence the way doctors and scientists research and write about race,” Cooper Owens said.

Schiebinger is the author of “Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science,” winner of the 1995 Ludwik Fleck Book Prize, and “Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World” (French Colonial Historical Society, 2005), winner of the 2005 AHA prize in Atlantic History and the Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize.

“The Porter Fortune Jr. History Symposium is the most important public lecture series sponsored by the Department of History each year,” said Joseph Ward, chair and associate professor of history. “We hope that members of the general public, as well as UM faculty, staff and students, will take the opportunity to attend sessions that interest them.”

The university and the history department have conducted the Porter Fortune Symposium on various topics every year since 1975. A number of thematic sessions are planned in addition to the keynote address. Typically, selections of the papers appear in an edited volume.

“For 37 years, the Porter L. Fortune Symposium has been an important event in the scholarship of Southern history and the College of Liberal Arts,” said Glenn Hopkins, dean of liberal arts.

For more information, including a conference schedule, visit