Food, Sex, and Death: Medicine and Warfare in the Early Modern World

AHA Session 244
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4C (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
John R. McNeill, Georgetown University

Session Abstract

The four papers in this panel treat new medical theories and practices which were inspired by military conflict in the early modern world. In particular, they discuss attempts to deal with various diseases and their cures and with nutrition in war zones. Although the papers deal with four different world regions (southern Europe, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean world, and East and Southeast Asia), they all ask how warfare impacted local ideas about epidemic diseases and cultural practices. Likewise, all trace the circulation of medicines, food, and medical knowledge in the early modern period. In the Asian case, colonial administrators researched and wrote medical treatises that were essential to imperial expansion in the miasmic highlands of both Vietnam and China. An exemplary British army physician followed a similar trajectory, bridging Caribbean plantations and metropolitan centers of learning through medical writing advice based on his prior military experience. Medical treatises followed on the heels of warfare too in the European case, as medical experts in Rome developed nutritional theories inspired by food shortages caused by religious warfare and the influx of new foods into Europe from foreign conquests. In the Indian Ocean world, medicines and medical cultures likewise followed a step behind arrival of syphilis in war zones from the late 15th century. As a group, these papers reveal the importance of warfare and conflict in inspiring, spreading, and consolidating medical knowledge.

Although Bouley and Baldanza are colleagues at Penn State University, they work in different fields and have not yet had an opportunity to collaborate or formally share their research. This panel pulls in four major world regions and will appeal to historians interested in the history of medicine, military history, environmental history, and the study of empire. We see this panel as a way to start a truly global conversation between the panelists and with the audience, and hope to illuminate connections, both expected and unexpected, in the process.

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