From colonial medical officers to WHO advisors to Doctors without Borders, border crossers who link medical cultures in disparate parts of the world have recently captured the attention of historians of disease control. By and large, however, those scholars continue to look to the late nineteenth and twentieth century, situating the emergence of border crossers in the rise of modern globalization. This paper challenges this outlook by introducing an overlooked actor from an earlier period: the consul. Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, consuls became an increasingly prominent component of international statecraft as European and new Atlantic nations jostled in the arena of global commerce. Commerce and warfare introduced new patterns of disease to port cities, and the consuls in those cities began to take on new roles in disease control. They kept tabs on mortality rates, established disease surveillance networks, translated health regulations, networked with public health authorities and medical cultures abroad. This paper focuses on the context of new challenges in the international community around the turn of the nineteenth century. In the wake of the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the United States sought to establish itself as a player in long-distance trade. At the same time, Americans and Europeans confronted an unprecedented surge and spread in both yellow fever and plague. As American agents interacted with regulatory and medical cultures abroad, they helped to shape policy decisions, surveillance practices, new ideas about disease and new geographies of medical cultures. By recovering the activities of consuls, this paper seeks to raise questions about the place of the eighteenth and nineteenth century in histories of global health. By directing our attention to overlooked sites of statecraft and medicine, this paper also suggests the need to refine the categories of "governance" and "medicine" in the longue durée of global health history.
Presented by Katherine Arner (Johns Hopkins, CHR Dissertation Fellow)
at the Center for Historical Research, Dept. of History
The Ohio State University on April 13, 2012
Comment: Thomas McDow, Department of History, Ohio State
The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.