Udodiri R. Okwandu

Udodiri R. Okwandu

Udodiri Okwandu

Research Interests: History of medicine and public health; race and science; history of psychiatry; history of reproductive medicine and health; critical theories of race and gender; medical humanities.

Udodiri R. Okwandu is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science Department and Presidential Scholar at Harvard University. Broadly, her research explores the intersection of race, gender, and medicine and cultural understandings of health and disease. Her dissertation traces how scientific and medical understandings of maternal mental illnesses – such as postpartum depression and psychosis – have been used to rationalize the “transgressive” behavior of childbearing women from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth century. In doing so, she demonstrates the ways in which these rationalizations served to either excuse or pathologize women in ways that mapped onto existing racial and class hierarchies. She illuminates the consequences of these discourses by examining various sites, including the courts, asylum, family planning clinic, psychoanalytic research “lab,” and sterilization laws.

Udodiri graduated cum laude from Harvard College with an AB in the History of Science (Mind, Brain, and Behavior track) and a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. Her senior thesis, which won the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize, an award which recognizes outstanding scholarly work or research by students selected by a committee of faculty from Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, examined the medicalization and racialization of Civil Rights protests in the 1960s/70s, contextualizing it with the rise of law-and-order political ideology.


Defending Anne Bradley: Race and the Medico-Legal Construction of Maternal Mental Illness in the Early 20th Century.” American Association for the History of Medicine 95th Annual Meeting, Symposium Presentation, Saratoga Springs, NY. (April 2022)

“Carceral Psychiatry, Abolitionist Psychiatry.” American Association for the History of Medicine 95th Annual Meeting, Lunch Workshop, Saratoga Springs, NY. (April 2022)

“Madness and Mothering: Diagnostic Privilege, Race, and Reproductive Insanities in American Medicine, Science, and Law.” American Association for the History of Medicine 94th Annual Meeting. (May, 2021)

“The (Violent) Black Brain and the Politics of Knowing: The Case of Drs. Vernon Mark, Frank Ervin, and William Sweet.” The Joint Atlantic Seminar in the History of Biology. (April 2021).

Previous Degrees: 
AB., History of Science, Harvard College