Nursing empire: travel letters from Africa and the Caribbean

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Abstract

This essay analyses colonial nurses’ travel letters, written from West Africa and the Caribbean between the turn of the century and 1920, in order to better understand the role of nurses in forming satellite versions of home. Though their primary function was to ‘nurse empire’ by helping to repair and maintain the bodies needed for imperial labour, nurses also contributed to written discourses supporting Britain's economic interests and political goals. Through careful consideration of primary archival material, this essay analyses the rhetorical modes that may have helped nurses gain professional and personal authority abroad. It considers nurses as moving within several kinds of imperial networks – geographical, institutional and discursive – and traces the shifts in their written self-representation according to these different contexts. In order to reform nursing, in the mid-nineteenth century Florence Nightingale defined the ‘New Nurse's’ ideal personality as well as her duties. Ever since, the nurse's ‘character’ has often been essentialised in literature and culture. As Julia Hallam observes in Nursing the Image (2000), the nurse is commonly portrayed as ministering angel, potential seductress, battleaxe or doctor's helpmate. The goal of this essay is to resist simplifying nurses’ cultural significance, motivations or experiences by studying the multiple influences to which colonial nurses were subject and the shifting registers in their writing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-77
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Travel Writing
Volume17
Issue number1
Early online date4 Dec 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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