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Difference and Disease
Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire


Part of Global Health Histories

  • Date Published: May 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108407007

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About the Authors
  • Before the nineteenth century, travellers who left Britain for the Americas, West Africa, India and elsewhere encountered a medical conundrum: why did they fall ill when they arrived, and why - if they recovered - did they never become so ill again? The widely accepted answer was that the newcomers needed to become 'seasoned to the climate'. Suman Seth explores forms of eighteenth-century medical knowledge, including conceptions of seasoning, showing how geographical location was essential to this knowledge and helped to define relationships between Britain and her far-flung colonies. In this period, debates raged between medical practitioners over whether diseases changed in different climes. Different diseases were deemed characteristic of different races and genders, and medical practitioners were thus deeply involved in contestations over race and the legitimacy of the abolitionist cause. In this innovative and engaging history, Seth offers dramatically new ways to understand the mutual shaping of medicine, race, and empire.

    • Introduces the term 'race-medicine' as an alternative to the term 'race-science'
    • Offers an accessible postcolonial history of colonial medicine
    • Brings together histories of empire, race, and slavery
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In this clever and often startling book, Suman Seth re-evaluates the complex histories of tropical medicine and colonial politics through a fascinating study of the plantation systems of the eighteenth-century Caribbean. These new histories offer a fresh perspective on the meaning and effects of the slave economy and the roles of physicians, merchants and naturalists in the forging of Atlantic racism.' Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge

    'In this postcolonial history of colonial medicine Suman Seth addresses the question as to why race emerged as a critical axis of difference in the late eighteenth century. His detailed exploration of 'race-medicine' demonstrates the coming-into-being of racial categories and binaries through the division of the world into tropical and temperate zones, places of familiarity and strangeness. Difference and Disease marks an important addition to our understanding of race making in the imperial world.' Catherine Hall, University College London

    'Suman Seth's brilliantly forensic analysis goes further than any previous work in demonstrating the importance of medicine in the formation of racial thinking in early British colonialism. This impressive scholarship demands close reading from scholars of knowledge, prejudice and the body, from science studies to Atlantic history.' James Delbourgo, Rutgers University, New Jersey

    'Suman Seth's Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire is a well-researched, focused, eloquently phrased, and original work that both academics and students can use for teaching or further writing purposes.' Eszter Ureczky, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies

    'Seth has written a book of great value for scholars in a nest of related historical fields. Simply from the standpoint of the history of race, its contribution is quite singular.' Jonathan Marks, Isis

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108407007
    • length: 340 pages
    • dimensions: 150 x 230 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.53kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Locality:
    1: 'The same diseases here as in Europe'? Health and locality before 1700
    2. Changes in the air: William Hillary and English medicine in the West Indies, 1720–1760
    Part II. Empire:
    3. Seasoning sickness and the imaginative geography of the British Empire
    4. Imperial medicine and the putrefactive paradigm, 1720–1800
    Part III. Race:
    5. Race-medicine in the colonies, 1679–1750
    6. Race, slavery, and polygenism: Edward Long and the history of Jamaica
    7. Pathologies of blackness: race-medicine, slavery, and abolitionism

  • Author

    Suman Seth, Cornell University, New York
    Suman Seth is an Associate Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University, New York. His previous publications include Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890–1926 (2010). He is currently serving on the governing council of the History of Science Society.

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