Thesis ID: CBB417181015

Steering the Seas of Reform: Education, Empirical Science, and Royal Naval Medicine, 1815-1860 (2016)


As medical and imperial actors, early-nineteenth-century British naval surgeons navigated the sweeping changes that occurred within the Royal Navy, the medical profession, and British society. They embraced and applied empirical natural and medical scientific approaches between the 1810s and 1850s. Their attempts to employ science as they negotiated naval service’s realities and experiences, pursued their scientific and medical interests and duties, and confronted tropical fevers transformed the naval service. Scottish and Scottish-trained medical officers and leaders, who dominated the service through mid-century, spearheaded these efforts. In the process, surgeons’ practical utility to the Navy’s global-imperial duties became an increasingly important consideration, and their professional status and respectability rose. This dissertation culminates with a case study of surgeons’ efforts to confront tropical fevers encountered off the West African coast. These later chapters analyze the changes in medical and strategic thought, approaches, and practices that led to a shift in practices related to fevers and the widespread use of quinine. This account builds on efforts to integrate military and colonial medicine and science into narratives of British history, and the histories of empire, medicine, and science. It draws from medical course and student records, naval papers, reports and correspondence, university and parliamentary committees, and medical and scientific manuscripts and journals. This approach sheds analytical, statistical, and demographic light on naval medicine’s place in broader imperial and professional contexts, highlighting the convergence of educational, professional, institutional, and practical reforms with the necessities of service at sea. It portrays the early nineteenth century as a period of turmoil and transition in medicine and science— often labeled the Age of Reform. Professionalization and the rise of science within the medical profession led to educational, professional, and practical upheaval, as well as rising qualifications, authority, and ambitions. Bringing multiple literatures on medical and scientific education, professionalization, and practice into dialogue, this project presents an inclusive but focused view of these developments, and their relations to naval medicine. Naval surgeons emerge as an important group that had to negotiate the myriad professional and societal changes that shaped British science, medicine, and society during this formative period.

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Authors & Contributors
McLean, David
Smith, George Winston
Wooley, Charles F.
Mocquot, Gabriel P.
Broussais, François J. V.
Cardwell, John
Journal of Medical Biography
Arabic Sciences and Philosophy
English Historical Review
Würzburger Medizinhistorische Mitteilungen
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Pharmaceutical Products Press (Haworth Press)
Biblioteca Municipal de Jerez de la Frontera
Oxford University Press
Protea Book House
I. B. Tauris
Medicine and the military; medicine in war
Physicians; doctors
Empiric medicine
Wells, Thomas Spencer
Ballingall, George
Schmidt, Johann Adam
Blane, Gilbert, Sir
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
17th century
9th century
Great Britain
United States
South Africa
Great Britain. Royal Navy
University of Edinburgh
International Red Cross

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