Re-writing race in early modern European medicine

Hannah Murphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This short article explores the role of medical practitioners from across Europe in the practice of slavery and in the making of early modern race. Medical practitioners were present from the earliest moments of European encounters with African slavery. As the slave trade developed, their participation developed and became more formal. From their role on board ship, to their bureaucratic role in the process of inspecting enslaved peoples, to their practices within colonial administration, the nascent arena of the slave trade depended on a transnational network of medical practitioners. The politics of their expertise linked the practice of slavery with the production of scientific ideas about race. Drawing together the current literature along two lines of theory and practice, I suggest that the construction of the slave trade relied on thousands of such medical encounters. Examining this process reveals a history of enslavement and race as intimate practices, defined in a case-by-case manner, by people, rather than systems. Ultimately, I suggest that thinking about medicine and slavery through categories of knowledge and practice provides insight into the intimate and embodied way in which racial categories of difference were constructed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12692
JournalHistory Compass
Issue number11
Early online date31 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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