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The conquest of disease has long been considered vital to the expansion of the British Empire. Conversely, encounters with new disease environments in India, the West Indies and the Americas have been identified as catalysts for evolutions in the way disease, therapeutics and the British constitution were understood. One of the most significant of these periods of change was the early nineteenth century. This study has endeavoured to bridge the gap between histories establishing the effects of foreign service and the experience of war on British medical practitioners, and studies investigating the transition from older forms of knowledge, to ‘hospital’ or empirically-based medicine. With the exception of a handful of recently published works, the contribution of British army medical officers of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to that process has not been explored, despite the fact that those practitioners formed a significant proportion of the British medical community and were likely to have had some influence on the development of medical theory and practice.
Such recently published works have exploded traditional military medical histories that dismissed these practitioners as ill-educated butchers purveying a medicine based on misguided science. The successes of disease prevention during this period have also been shown to have been based on more than a fortuitous alignment of circumstance. Additionally, historians have begun to illuminate the ways in which new forms of medical evidence and reporting were constructed by these practitioners.
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