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Book Talk with Jim Downs – “Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine”

May 16 @ 6:30 pm 7:30 pm

Free Donations are encouraged

Virtual Book Talk

Plantations, slave ships, and battlefields were the laboratories in which physicians came to understand the spread of disease. Military doctors learned about the importance of air quality by monitoring Africans confined to the bottom of slave ships. The field hospitals of the Crimean War and the US Civil War were carefully observed experiments in disease transmission.
Join us as historian Jim Downs reveals that the study of infectious disease depended crucially on the unrecognized contributions of non-consenting subjects―conscripted soldiers, enslaved people, and subjects of the empire.
Jim Downs is the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History. He is the author, co-author, and editor of multiple books and anthologies, including Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine (Harvard UP, 2021), which has been translated into Chinese, French, Korean, Japanese, and Russian.

He has published articles and essays in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Vice, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The L.A. Review of Books, among others. Downs has published book chapters in several edited volumes, most recently in Remembering the Memphis Massacre: An American Story (UGA Press, 2020). Downs is the Editor of Civil War History. He was awarded the Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellowship at the Hutchins Center for African and African American History at Harvard University in 2022-23. Downs earned his P.h.D. in History at Columbia University, his MA in American Studies also at Columbia University, and his BA in American Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. The Organization of American Historians named him a Distinguished Lecturer in 2014-17, which was then renewed in 2017 and again in 2020.

Reexamining the foundations of modern medicine, Jim Downs shows that the study of infectious disease depended crucially on the unrecognized contributions of nonconsenting subjects―conscripted soldiers, enslaved people, and subjects of empire. Plantations, slave ships, and battlefields were the laboratories in which physicians came to understand the spread of disease.

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