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15 October 2020

King's researcher awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship for ground-breaking new insights into the history of medicine and race

Zaiba Hakim

Dr Hannah Murphy has been named one of UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellows for her study into pre-modern race. The leading scheme awards outstanding scholars with investments into research and innovation.

Black and white profile photo of Dr Hannah Murphy

Today, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced a new generation of researchers confronting pressing global challenges through UKRI's prestigious Future Leader Fellowship.

Dr Hannah Murphy, a Research Fellow at King's College London, has been awarded £1.4m for her new project. The project, entitled, Medicine and the Making of Race, 1440-1720, will develop a global prehistory of race through the lens of medical encounters and practices of enslaved and free Black Africans forcibly transported during the African slave trade.

The project will address four key research questions:

  1. What role did medical practitioners play in the increasingly systematic enslavement of African peoples, both in Europe and in the New World?
  2. Did African people in European communities provide alternative medical treatments, and if so, how did European medicine encounter and react to these practices?
  3. Did medical treatment of "foreign bodies" inform developing ideas of "race"?
  4. How did such treatment accord to medical theory, and how did practitioners grapple with the disconnect between their experiences of enslaved bodies, and the theories by which they were trained?

Through this research, the project will facilitate a new understanding of the earliest years of what would become the transatlantic slave trade and an approach to the history of race grounded in interpersonal and embodied experiences, rather than theory.

Dr Murphy's ground-breaking new evidence will deepen public understanding of the rich, complex, multicultural, and global history of the UK.

Her research will benefit school students, teachers, in particular, BME students for more multicultural and international teaching in the history curricula. As well as benefiting university lecturers and students of all disciplines by meeting calls to "decolonise the curriculum". The project will also serve policymakers, to construct better policy and advocate for attention to broadening education on race and its history at government level.

The UKRI Fellowship is the latest accolade for Dr Murphy, who prior to King’s had a highly varied career that has taken in some of the most prestigious institutions in the world: Trinity College Dublin, U. California Berkeley and Oxford, where she was Junior Research Fellow until 2017. She is currently Co-Investigator on the Renaissance Skin project in the Department of History at King’s, looking broadly at the material culture of human and animal skin in Reformation Germany. Within the department, Dr Murphy will be mentored by Professor Evelyn Welch, a noted specialist on Renaissance history and an experienced research leader.


I am thrilled to have been awarded this fellowship and to be holding it at King's. The project has grown out of work with the Renaissance Skin team and has developed through conversations with colleagues and students over several years. My aim with this opportunity is to build an inclusive and collaborative research programme, which I hope will be of use not just to the academic community, but to the broader public as well.

Dr Hannah Murphy

About UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowships

This cross-UK Research and Innovation scheme supports early career researchers and innovators with outstanding potential in universities, UK registered businesses, and other research and user environments including research councils' institutes and laboratories.

The support will enable each fellow to tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation and develop their own careers.

Fellows will benefit from:

  • A scheme that is committed to supporting excellent researchers and innovators regardless of their background. Fellowships can be held on a part-time basis for personal commitments and/or as part of a job share.
  • Networking across their cohort of some of the UK’s most talented researchers and innovators from different disciplines and sectors, putting them at the forefront of modern, interdisciplinary research.
  • A career boost, including time and investment for training and professional development, providing a route to an open-ended contract for academically hosted fellows (in line with organisational policies and practices).

For more information, please visit UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowship.

In this story

Hannah Murphy

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow & Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History