Medical Experts in the French Atlantic World
I am currently researching a book on medical practitioners in the French Atlantic World. The eighteenth century witnessed sweeping changes to the theory and practice of medicine: medicine became a crucial lens for understanding the world and a major tool for expanding European empires, the slave trade, and plantation slavery. Surgeons, once seen as no more than skilled artisans, elevated their status to rival that of physicians and plied their trade around the globe. Doctors gleaned knowledge from enslaved and indigenous healers and repackaged their cures for European markets. Plantation owners hired physicians and surgeons to extract maximum profits from enslaved people. Female midwives persisted in and professionalized their work, despite renewed attacks by male midwives and surgeons. The government launched its first public health programs. Medicine was, in short, a crucial mechanism for the making of the modern world.
My research explores this history from the ground level: how did these changes come about? How did physicians, surgeons, and midwives position themselves as useful experts, and how do their strategies help us understand the rise of modern medical expertise? How did medicine facilitate the exercise of colonial power? How does the practice of medical authority intersect with the histories of race and gender? I have designed the project as a series of interlocking microhistories, with each chapter focusing on a single individual or event. By studying a diverse set of medical experts -- from surgeons on slave ships to midwives in provincial France -- this book will map the construction of medical authority on the ground while also teasing out the cultural, social, and intellectual context.