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Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine

March 2 @ 7:00 pm 8:30 pm

Presented by Jim Downs, PhD

Gilder Lehrman–National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History at Gettysburg College

Harold C. Smith Presentation Room, Stitzer Welcome Center at Judd Gymnasia

Most stories of medical progress come with ready-made heroes. John Snow traced the origins of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak to a water pump, leading to the birth of epidemiology. Florence Nightingale’s contributions to the care of soldiers in the Crimean War revolutionized medical hygiene, transforming hospitals from crucibles of infection to sanctuaries of recuperation. Yet histories of individual innovators ignore many key sources of medical knowledge, especially when it comes to the science of infectious disease.

Reexamining the foundations of modern medicine, Jim Downs shows that the study of infectious disease depended crucially on the unrecognized contributions of nonconsenting subjects—conscripted soldiers, enslaved people, and subjects of empire. Plantations, slave ships, and battlefields were the laboratories in which physicians came to understand the spread of disease. Military doctors learned about the importance of air quality by monitoring Africans confined to the bottom of slave ships. Statisticians charted cholera outbreaks by surveilling Muslims in British-dominated territories returning from their annual pilgrimage. The field hospitals of the Crimean War and the U.S. Civil War were carefully observed experiments in disease transmission.

The scientific knowledge derived from discarding and exploiting human life is now the basis of our ability to protect humanity from epidemics. Boldly argued and eye-opening, Maladies of Empire gives a full account of the true price of medical progress.

Downs’ academic focus includes Civil War era studies, history of medicine and public health, African American studies, and gender and sexuality studies.

This event is free and open to the Springfield College community and the public.

Sponsors: Department of Humanities and Social Sciences; School of Arts and Sciences; Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement; Multicultural Fund; Honors Program; and Department of Literature, Writing, and Journalism

For more information, contact Ian Delahanty at idelahanty@springfield.edu.

A Wellness Passport Event
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