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SurroundingsA History of Environments and Environmentalisms$
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Etienne S. Benson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226706153

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706320.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 23 September 2021

Environments of Empire: Disease, Race, and Statistics in the British Caribbean

Environments of Empire: Disease, Race, and Statistics in the British Caribbean

(p.48) Chapter 2 Environments of Empire: Disease, Race, and Statistics in the British Caribbean

Etienne S. Benson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes the adoption of the concept of environment by physicians in the nineteenth century. It focuses on British medical officers stationed in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean who observed outbreaks of yellow fever and other tropical diseases among the soldiers and sailors under their care. The chapter shows how systematic record-keeping and statistical methods developed in the decades following the Napoleonic wars undermined the explanations of disease dominant at the time, including neo-Hippocratic explanations that attributed disease to unhealthy climates and places. From the mid-nineteenth century onward, British medical officers and army statisticians used these new data and methods to identify factors that they believed increased the probability of disease for people of certain races (a means of classification that became increasingly rigid and biological during this period). By the end of the nineteenth century, they had begun to describe these surrounding factors collectively as the environment. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the late-nineteenth-century discovery of microscopic pathogens and insect vectors, including the yellow fever virus and the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmitted it. It argues that rather than overshadowing environmental explanations of disease, these discoveries confirmed the importance of the environment for health.

Keywords:   United Kingdom, British Empire, Caribbean, Jamaica, military medicine, environmental health, sanitation, statistics, race science, germ theory

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