Medicalizing Blackness

Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840

By Rana A. Hogarth

290 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3287-2
    Published: October 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5105-5
    Published: September 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3288-9
    Published: September 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3286-5
    Published: October 2017

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In 1748, as yellow fever raged in Charleston, South Carolina, doctor John Lining remarked, “There is something very singular in the constitution of the Negroes, which renders them not liable to this fever.” Lining’s comments presaged ideas about blackness that would endure in medical discourses and beyond. In this fascinating medical history, Rana A. Hogarth examines the creation and circulation of medical ideas about blackness in the Atlantic World during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She shows how white physicians deployed blackness as a medically significant marker of difference and used medical knowledge to improve plantation labor efficiency, safeguard colonial and civic interests, and enhance control over black bodies during the era of slavery.

Hogarth refigures Atlantic slave societies as medical frontiers of knowledge production on the topic of racial difference. Rather than looking to their counterparts in Europe who collected and dissected bodies to gain knowledge about race, white physicians in Atlantic slaveholding regions created and tested ideas about race based on the contexts in which they lived and practiced. What emerges in sharp relief is the ways in which blackness was reified in medical discourses and used to perpetuate notions of white supremacy.

About the Author

Rana A. Hogarth is assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
For more information about Rana A. Hogarth, visit the Author Page.


"A useful book for historians interested in the intersections between race and disability, the overlaps between disease and disability, and the power of the medical profession in shaping the understandings of so-called different bodies."--H-Net

“Hogarth’s insightful work will provoke important debates.”--Journal of the Civil War Era

“This project is especially strong as Hogarth reaches across otherwise separate fields—the British Caribbean in the final decades of debates over the slave trade and emancipation and the newly independent slaveholding United States—to demonstrate the way that medicine tied the Greater Caribbean region together. Hogarth also effectively engages with efforts by historians of slavery to study silences in the archive (of which there are always many).”--Isis Review

“Provides careful insight into the medical construction of race in Jamaica and South Carolina during the period of slavery.”--Journal of Caribbean History

“A strong and important new work, one that will be of value for historians of Atlantic science and medicine as well as of race and slavery.”--Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Shows that the idea that black and white bodies are somehow physiologically and racially different from one another has a long history, one rooted in slavery and racism. This is crucial context for understanding the current state of medicine and serves as an important corrective to assumptions about race. . . . Hogarth’s book is sure to generate both fruitful discussion and further research in the critical history of medicine and race.”--William and Mary Quarterly