Cover of Secret Cures of Slaves by Londa Schiebinger
Secret Cures of Slaves
People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World
Londa Schiebinger

June 2017
288 pages.
from $24.95

Cloth ISBN: 9781503600171
Paper ISBN: 9781503602915

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In the natural course of events, humans fall sick and die. The history of medicine bristles with attempts to find new and miraculous remedies, to work with and against nature to restore humans to health and well-being. In this book, Londa Schiebinger examines medicine and human experimentation in the Atlantic World, exploring the circulation of people, disease, plants, and knowledge between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. She traces the development of a colonial medical complex from the 1760s, when a robust experimental culture emerged in the British and French West Indies, to the early 1800s, when debates raged about banning the slave trade and, eventually, slavery itself.

Massive mortality among enslaved Africans and European planters, soldiers, and sailors fueled the search for new healing techniques. Amerindian, African, and European knowledges competed to cure diseases emerging from the collision of peoples on newly established, often poorly supplied, plantations. But not all knowledge was equal. Highlighting the violence and fear endemic to colonial struggles, Schiebinger explores aspects of African medicine that were not put to the test, such as Obeah and vodou. This book analyzes how and why specific knowledges were blocked, discredited, or held secret.

About the author

Londa Schiebinger is the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University. She is the author of the award-winning Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (2004), among many other works.

"Racism is the belief that certain people are not fully human, and that infamously opportunistic opinion is evident whenever some people are selected to be unwilling subjects of medical experimentation, as Londa Schiebinger makes clear in her important new study."

—Joyce E. Chaplin, Harvard University

"In this urgent, probing and visually striking volume, Londa Schiebinger shifts our understanding of Enlightenment racial attitudes to the domain of the medical, explores their entanglement with African healing cultures in diaspora, and unravels the signal tension between Europeans' parallel claims to racial difference and the interchangeability of human experimental subjects. This powerful work of scholarship from one of the pioneers of feminist and colonial science studies resituates the history of medical experimentation in the slave plantations of the eighteenth-century Caribbean, making a vital contribution to the dynamic new wave of research on science and slavery in the Atlantic world."

—James Delbourgo, Rutgers University