This 30 CATS final-year undergraduate Advanced Option module explores the fundamental transformation in attitudes about health and the body in the age of European imperial expansion. Focusing on the period 1750 to 1914, it examines how encounters with unfamiliar bodies and diseases led Europeans to rethink both the theory and practice of medicine, and the nature of human diversity.
Through a critical examination of course materials, students will evaluate the relationship between global history and medical history, considering how imperial aims influenced medical culture, and how medical realities in turn inflected the practices of imperial management and control. Using historical, anthropological, literary and visual sources, students will gain an overview of a variety of topics illustrating European self-confidence in its natural knowledge and superiority and how fears of pollution and degeneration came to challenge these certainties. In the process, students will learn about the evolution of racial theory and how it played out in different contexts, and how tropical encounters shaped the character of colonial medicine. By the end of the year, students will be able to situate how racialized bodies, experiences of health and illness, medical research, and anthropological theories framed the imperial enterprise.