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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Thursday 11 February 2021, 4.00–5.30pm (GMT) on Zoom

Dr Sasha Turner (Johns Hopkins University)

Doctors v. midwives: Caribbean medical encounters in the age of pronatal abolition

Measuring, experimenting on, and dissecting sick and dead black bodies, physicians, scientists and naturalists claimed expertise to prove and document racial differences. Racial science bolstered slavery's social order and white medical authority by scientifically rendering blacks as inferior to whites and therefore incapable of contributing much to society beyond brute labour. Uncovering the invention of racial science remains important to disrupting the tendency to ignore the bonds between medicine and slavery. And yet, how do we acknowledge the debt modern medicine owes to Africans and their descendants when the archive from which we are to produce knowledge of such debt was designed in exclusionary terms? How do we reconnect medicine to transformative transatlantic social and cultural interactions when it untethers itself from the quotidian? This methodological reflection explores how we might approach non-traditional medical history sources, specifically plantation slavery and abolitionist records, to reveal how politics and culture shaped medicine. It examines how the debates to end the slave trade and the interaction between enslaved midwives and learned, expatriate physicians influenced medical practice, ideas and regulation.

Sasha Turner is the author of Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing and Slavery in Jamaica which won awards from the Berkshire Conference on Women's History and the Southern Historical Association. She is an Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and completed a PhD in history at the University of Cambridge.

All welcome. The Zoom will be open for informal discussion from 3.45–4pm and 5.30–6pm.

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