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J Hist Med Allied Sci. 2017 Jul 1;72(3):328-351. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrx003.

"His Native, Hot Country"1: Racial Science and Environment in Antebellum American Medical Thought.

Author information

1
Tulane University, 6823 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118.

Abstract

Relying on a close reading of more than 4,000 medicals student theses, this essay explores the evolving medical approaches to race and environment in the early national and antebellum United States and highlights the role that medical school pedagogy played in disseminating and elaborating racial theory. Specifically, it considers the influence of racial science on medical concepts of the relationship of bodies to climates. At their core, monogenesis-belief in a single, unified human race-and polygenesis-the belief that each race was created separately-were theories about the human body's connections to the natural world. As polygenesis became influential in Atlantic medical thought, physicians saw environmental treatments as a matter of matching bodies to their natural ecology. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Atlantic physicians understood bodies and places as in constant states of flux. Through proper treatment, people and environments could suffer either degradation or improvement. Practitioners saw African Americans and whites as the same species with their differences being largely superficial and produced by climate. However, by the 1830s and 1840s medical students were learning that each race was inherently different and unalterable by time or temperature. In this paradigm, medical students articulated a vision of racial health rooted in organic relationships between bodies and climates.

KEYWORDS:

U.S. South; and medical students; empire; environment; medical education; nineteenth century; polygenesis; race; slavery

PMID:
28873981
DOI:
10.1093/jhmas/jrx003
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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