Military Medicine in the Caribbean Plantation Enlightenment: Thomas Dancers The Medical Assistant (1801)

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:50 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4C (Colorado Convention Center)
Claire E. Gherini, Johns Hopkins University
In 1801 the Jamaican medical practitioner, Thomas Dancer, finished The Medical Assistant, a domestic medical advice text that functioned like a 462 pp encyclopedia of Jamaican diseases and their cures. Like many of his colonial medical counterparts, Dancer owed the bulk of his clinical experience to his service in the British Army. In 1780 he served as the head physician for the British military expedition to San Juan. Dancer’s path from military physician to didactic medical author followed the trajectory of many colonial medical men who had served in the West Indies and who later leveraged their experiences to gain metropolitan recognition and renown. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Dancer perceived the venue of the plantation, rather than metropolitan centers of learning, as the site to market the intellectual outcomes of his work. The Medical Assistant exemplifies, I argue, a translation of the health and healing practices from the West Indian Garrison to the Caribbean plantation, two venues of labor and knowledge making that overlapped and informed one another in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Analysis of Dancer's text presents an opportunity to study the previously overlooked conduits through which civilians working in other sites of large-scale sickness and healthcare encountered medical ideas and practices generated in the eighteenth-century British army.