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Week 7: Disease and the Environment

High levels of morbidity and mortality accompanied the European colonization of the tropics, prompting them to question their ability to successfully settle in a different environment. These ideas fed into contemporary racial theory, as ‘polygenists’ increasingly posited that different races were different species uniquely adapted to their original environments. ‘Monogenists’, on the other hand, believed in a process of acclimatization over time, suggesting that Europeans could eventually thrive in the tropics. These ideas were tested out in the colonies as physicians charted the effects on warm climates on the bodies of both Europeans and non-Europeans, as the two groups negotiated their relations to one another.


Discussion Questions:

-How did monogenist/polygenist theory influence medicine?

-To what extent did Europeans believe it was possible for them to survive and flourish in tropical climates?

-Why did climate and environment become central to medical theory in the eighteenth century?

-To what extent was ‘acclimatisation’ a behavioural process rather than just a physical/physiological one?


Background Reading:

Pratik Chakrabarti, Medicine and Empire, 1600-1960 (Basingstoke, 2014), ‘Ch. 4: Colonialism, Climate and Race,’ pp. 57-72.

Required Readings:

*Mark Harrison, ‘“The Tender Frame of Man”: Disease, Climate, and Racial Difference in India and the West Indies, 1760-1860’ Bulletin of the History of Medicine 70 (1996), 68-93. [e-journal]

*Katherine Johnston, ‘The Constitution of Empire: Place and Bodily Health in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic,’ Atlantic Studies 10 (2013), 443-466. [e-journal]

*Dane Kennedy, ‘The Perils of the Midday Sun: Climatic Anxieties in the Colonial Tropics,’ in John M. MacKenzie (ed.) Imperialism and the Natural World (Manchester, 1990), pp.118-140 [extracts]

*Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ‘Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Colonial Experience,’ The William and Mary Quarterly 41 (1984), pp.213-240. [e-journal]

**David Livingstone, ‘Human Acclimatisation: Perspectives on a Contested Field of Inquiry in Science, Medicine, and Geography,’ History of Science 25 (1987), 359-394. [e-journal]

Further Readings:

B. Ricardo Brown, Until Darwin: Science, Human Variety and the Origins of Race (London, 2010) [e-book]

Jan Golinski, ‘American Climate and the Civilization of Nature’ in James Delbourgo and Nicolas Dew (eds.) Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York, 2007), pp.153-174 [e-book]

Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race Environment, and British Imperialism in India, 1600-1850 (New Delhi, 1999)

Ryan Johnson, ‘European Cloth and “Tropical” Skin: Clothing Material and British Ideas of Health and Hygiene in Tropical Climates,’ Bulletin of the History of Medicine 83 (2009), 530-560. [e-journal]

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ‘The Puzzle of the American Climate in the Early Colonial Period’ American Historical Review 87 (1982), 1262-1289. [e-journal]

David Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of Human Origins (Baltimore, 2008)

_____________, ‘Climate’s Moral Economy: Science, Race, and Place in Post-Darwinian British and American Geography,’ in Anna Godlewska and Neil Smith (eds.) Geography and Empire (Oxford, 1994), pp.132-154

_____________, ‘Tropical Climate and Moral Hygiene: The Anatomy of a Victorian Debate,’ British Journal of the History of Science 32 (1999), pp. 93-110. [e-journal]

Michael A. Osborne, ‘Acclimatizing the World: A History of the Paradigmatic Colonial Science,’ Osiris 15 (2000), pp.135-151 [e-journal]

Norris Saakwa-Mante, ‘Western Medicine and Racial Constitutions: Surgeon John Atkins’ Theory of Polygenism and Sleepy Distemper in the 1730s’, in Waltraud Ernst and Bernard Harris (eds.), Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960 (London, 1999), pp. 29-57

Suman Seth, Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and Locality in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire (Cambridge, 2018)

Phillip Sloan, ‘The idea of racial degeneracy in Buffon’s Histoire naturelle’, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 3 (1973), 293-321 [e-journal]

Primary Sources

James Johnson, The Influence of Tropical Climates, more especially of the Climate of India, on European Constitutions (4th edn., London, 1827), ‘Tropical Hygiene’, pp. 519-47.

James Lind, An Essay on Diseases incidental to Europeans in Hot Climates with the Method of Preventing their Fatal Consequences (1st edn., London, 1768), 'Ch. 2: Advice for the Preservation of such Europeans in Hot Climates, as Reside in Inland Countries’, pp. 191-210.