Hannah Murphy (King’s College London), ‘Spectacle, Slavery, Race: Medical Encounters and the 'Languages of Blackness' in Early Modern Europe’
A joint lecture between the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies and the Institute for Medical Humanities
Abstract: In the early modern period, practical medical encounters shaped the transatlantic slave trade, while learned medical discourse shaped scientific theories about race. But what was the relationship between the representation of practical medical encounters with slavery and the authoritative discourse of professionalizing bodies of medicine around emerging ideas of ‘race’? This paper examines the ways in which the languages of spectacle and scientific observation coincided in early modern medical literature. Medical literature – travel narratives, collections of natural history, case-histories and observations, inventories of museums and collections, and emerging accounts of epidemiology – were part and parcel of what Kim Hall has termed the ‘language of Blackness’. My paper suggests that the project of race-making arose out of and should be considered alongside patterns and dynamics integral to the development of early modern medicine writ large.