Secret Cures of Slaves

Londa Schiebinger, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century World. Stanford University Press (2017). 256pp. From US$25 paperback. ISBN 9781503602915.

This book analyses the eighteenth-century Atlantic world medical complex, when an experimental culture emerged in the British and French Caribbean. I was interested to read this because a central figure of the book is A.J. Alexander, a plantation manager on the Bacolet plantation in Grenada, with close connections John Black, one of the men I am writing about in my book. Alexander tested medicines that the enslaved used to treat a disease called Yaws. As well as carrying out his own experiments, Alexander was testing African cures transported to the Caribbean. Schiebinger ask though, whether these remedies were actually developed by the original Caribbeans, Arawaks, Tainos and Galibis, and taught to the enslaved? Essentially then, the book considers the question of circulation of knowledge in the Atlantic world. The book also digs into the ethics of experiments on enslaved people.

This is a fascinating read for its content but also for the style of writing. Schiebinger takes us on her journey of discovery, experimentation and results. As Sarah Schuetze wrote in her extended review, the book can be read as a historian’s version of a lab report, with the author as scientist conducting experiments with research she’s amassed throughout her career.

Click on the link to hear Londa Schiebinger discuss her book on the New Books Network.

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