To Heal and to Harm: Medicine, Knowledge, and Power in the Atlantic Slave Trade
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Roberts, Carolyn Elizabeth
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CitationRoberts, Carolyn Elizabeth. 2017. To Heal and to Harm: Medicine, Knowledge, and Power in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractTo Heal and to Harm: Medicine, Knowledge, and Power in the Atlantic Slave Trade is the first full-length study of the history of medicine in the eighteenth-century British slave trade and the first from both West African and British medical perspectives. This project examines the period from 1680 to 1807 – from the beginning of the Royal African Company’s most active slave trading period through the abolition of the British slave trade. I draw upon an extensive multilingual source base largely comprised of slave trade merchants’ records, correspondence, memoirs, medical treatises, pharmacopoeias, travel narratives, natural histories, and botanical texts. In examining the fragmentary evidence, I adopt an interdisciplinary approach that includes not only history (social, cultural, and medical), but also anthropology, pharmacology, ethnobotany, and religion. I theorize that the commercial medical needs of British slave traders were met through an intercontinental medical management system that relied on British and West African pharmaceutical and medical labor, resources, and knowledge. To this end, I study a largely unknown group of West African and British women and men, both enslaved and free. Their knowledge of pharmacy, surgery, and herbalism was mobilized to manage the harrowing physical, emotional, and social disorders of the slave trade.
I argue that the eighteenth-century British slave trade was a critical site of West African and British pharmaceutical and medical knowledge production in the Atlantic world. This project investigates how pharmaceutical and medical knowledge advanced in the midst of, and because of, the terrors of the eighteenth-century slave trade. In bringing together two largely discrete fields of historical inquiry – the history of the slave trade and the history of medicine – I offer a major revision of both. On one hand, my research reveals how medical dimensions of the slave trade fundamentally shaped its daily operations, administrative structure, and economic organization, while also importantly altering the nature of life and death for African people. On the other hand, slave trade medicine influenced wider economic, professional, and scientific movements in the Atlantic world. I argue that the slave trade influenced the rise of the global drug industry, the modernization of medicine, and the development of natural history and botany. The slave trade fundamentally altered the lives of millions of captive Africans and medicine was transformed in the process. Ultimately, medicine serves as a fresh mode of analysis for interrogating the tragic commerce in human beings.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42061516
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