The Center was founded in the fall of 1999 as the Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities. From its inception, the Center’s mission was to develop educational and research programs in clinical and research ethics and to encourage interdisciplinary work at Duke in bioethics, the history of medicine, and the social and cultural aspects of medicine.

In November, 2006, the Center was renamed the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, & History of Medicine, in honor of Dr. Josiah C. Trent, a noted Duke surgeon and medical historian who died of cancer at the age of 34. Over the course of her life, his wife, Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, made several generous contributions to Duke in Dr. Trent’s honor, including the donation to Duke Medical Center Library of the prestigious Trent Collection of historical medical artifacts and textbooks. She and the Trent Foundation also donated the endowment for two chaired professorships: one in the history of medicine and one in the medical humanities.