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Week 1: Slavery

Tutor: Dr James Poskett

Historians now widely accept that slavery played a major role in the making of the modern world. The same is true of the relationship between slavery and modern science. In this seminar, we explore how the growth of Atlantic slavery and the growth of modern science went hand-in-hand.

Seminar Questions

  • How did slavery shape modern science?
  • What kinds of knowledge did enslaved people have? And how was this appropriated?
  • What is the relationship between eighteenth-century racial science and slavery?
  • How should public and scientific institutions respond to the legacies of this history?

Seminar Readings

Mark Govier, “The Royal Society, Slavery, and the Island of Jamaica: 1660–1700,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 53 (1999)

Kathleen Murphy, “Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade,” William and Mary Quarterly 70 (2013)

James Delbourgo, ‘The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World’, Atlantic Studies 9 (2012)

Slavery and the Natural World: Natural History Museum

Additional Reading

Andrew Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)

David Lambert, Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Dorit Brixius, ‘From Ethnobotany to Emancipation: Slaves, Plant Knowledge, and Gardens on Eighteenth-Century Isle de France’, History of Science 58 (2019)

Elizabeth Green Musselman, ‘Plant Knowledge at the Cape: A Study in African and European Collaboration’, International Journal of African Historical Studies 36 (2003)

James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew, eds., Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (Routledge, 2007).

James E. McClellan and François Regourd, ‘The Colonial Machine: French Science and Colonization in the Ancien Regime’, Osiris 15 (2000)

James McClellan III, Colonialism and Science: Saint Domingue and the Old Regime (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)

Judith Carney and Richard Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (University of California Press, 2011)

Karol Kovalovich Weaver, ‘The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 76 (2002)

Kathleen S. Murphy, ‘Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic’, Atlantic Studies 8 (2011)

Kay Dian Kriz, ‘Curiosities, Commodities, and Transplanted Bodies in Hans Sloane’s “Natural History of Jamaica”’, The William and Mary Quarterly 57 (2000)

Londa Schiebinger, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford University Press, 2017)

Nicholas Dew, ‘Scientific Travel in the Atlantic World: The French Expedition to Gorée and the Antilles, 1681–1683’, The British Journal for the History of Science 43 (2010)

Rana Hogarth, The Medicalization of Blackness: Making Racial Differences in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

Raymond Phineas Stearns, Science in the British Colonies of America (University of Illinois Press, 1970)

Seymour Drescher, “The Ending of the Slave Trade and the Evolution of European Scientific Racism,” Social Science History 14 (1990)

Starr Douglas, ‘The Making of Scientific Knowledge in an Age of Slavery: Henry Smeathman, Sierra Leone and Natural History’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 9 (2008)

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

Susan Scott Parrish, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press, 2006)