The Republic of Fever: Commerce, Warfare and the Making of Warm Climate Medicine in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions

Katherine Arner Johns Hopkins University 2011-2012 Dissertation Research Fellow

The Republic of Fever: Commerce, Warfare and the Making of Warm Climate Medicine in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions My dissertation probes the impact of the Age of Atlantic Revolutions on European medical culture and ideas about health in the Atlantic World (and beyond).  Between the mid eighteenth and early nineteenth century, revolutions in the Americas and Europe rocked the Atlantic world and introduced new patterns of trade, warfare and migration.  The patterns of long-distance trade that knitted the Atlantic World together, and the warfare that threatened to tear it apart also transported warm climate diseases like yellow fever far from their African origins into the Caribbean, North America and southern Europe. Using the case of yellow fever, my dissertation looks at how these globalizing forces transformed the Atlantic world into an early arena for “global” approaches to health crises. Like yellow fever itself, the men who became immediately involved in studying and treating the new disease were dwellers, migrants and travelers who moved through and connected ports beyond the northern European centers of power and medicine.  They were military medical officers and surgeons, refugees, civilian physicians living in ports, merchants and diplomats. Contrary to our traditional view of this period, political and commercial upheaval did not completely fragment the medical and cultural worlds these men inhabited.  Rather, those forces created a space for these disparate medical actors to imagine and create new transnational intellectual networks, bodies of knowledge and ideas about cultural belonging.  This project seeks to recapture the tools and knowledge these actors made, in the face of geopolitical fragmentation, to build a new transnational sphere of medicine and disease surveillance outside of northern Europe. Recovering the collectives these men built (and their legacy) ultimately helps us rethink the long durée of international and global health by pushing our gaze back before the late nineteenth century. It also draws historians’ attention to disease and health experiences as a useful lens for tracking patterns of cross-border connectedness and disconnectedness in the Atlantic world. REPORT: In order to pursue a multi-sited project, my dissertation has involved archival research in London, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Richmond. Philadelphia, as a major center of medicine, international trade and yellow fever outbreaks in the eighteenth century, figures as a particularly important site of study in my work. The city’s archives and centuries’ old libraries hold quite an array of relevant manuscript and printed material: transatlantic correspondence, manuscript medical treatises and dissertations. They also hold treatises on yellow fever printed in the United States, British Empire, France, Spain and West Indies. All of these materials promised to reveal much about the place of Philadelphia in relation to other Atlantic medical communities grappling with yellow fever. These repositories also made my project more manageable by giving me access to materials produced abroad without having to travel too extensively. I had used previous research trips to Philadelphia to immerse myself in the extensive domestic and foreign literature on yellow fever housed in the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. This time, I returned to Philadelphia with a more targeted interest in reconstructing the socio-intellectual networks that linked the seaport to medical communities abroad. Manuscript correspondence would be a key source base. I had already done some work with physicians’ letters at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I decided to focus my attention during my PACHS fellowship on the rich collections housed in the American Philosophical Society and Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The American Philosophical Society’s library served as a major repository of correspondence and publications on natural history and disease phenomena in multiple parts of the Atlantic world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. I wanted to understand the role that the Society might have played in facilitating and mediating hemispheric and transatlantic exchanges about diseases, climate and medical treatment. I made use of the manuscript communications in the American Philosophical Society Archives collection. Among others, communications included letters and manuscript treatises on yellow fever in Spain and Havana communicated by the Spanish consul Valentin de Foronda and the Spanish Minister of Affairs Marqués de Casa Yrujo to John Vaughan, a merchant, lay intellectual and librarian of the Society. I also discovered letters of members of a sister scientific society in colonial St. Domingue, the Cercle des Philadelphes, which produced communications of the diseases of that island. A number of refugee physicians who fled from St. Domingue during the Haitian Revolution, like Louis Valentin, also delivered treatises and thoughts on effective treatment to the Society’s members. It is true that a number of the treatises on fevers in the West Indies and southern Europe have been digitized. Those digitized versions, however, are no substitute for working with the actual publications in the American Philosophical Society’s library. The vast majority of the library’s treatises contain inscriptions of those involved in sending and receiving the publications (and when). Those inscriptions provided me with valuable information about local agents and agents abroad involved in circulating treatises. I then used those names to track down more correspondence collections in (and outside of) the library. That included the microfilmed papers of the Paris-based US consul, David Baillie Warden, who became actively involved in circulating yellow fever treatises and physicians’ letters between the US and France. Not all of my work at the American Philosophical Society centered on studying the institution itself. The Society’s library houses materials that were vital to recovering other facets of the early republic’s international links. That included the microfilmed copies of the papers of David Hosack, a prominent physician in New York who made use of an extensive correspondence with British military medical officers to write his own work on the disease in New York. I was also able to work with letters by and to Rene La Roche, a physician and son of a Francophone doctor who had fled from St. Domingue to Philadelphia in the mid-1790s. The papers of Stephen Girard were immensely helpful. As a very prominent Francophone international merchant in Philadelphia with intimate ties to both France and his former home, St. Domingue, Girard became an important resource for many of the refugees who fled from war-torn St. Domingue to (and through) the Early Republic. I also knew about his role in the establishment of the makeshift hospital, Bush Hill, during the famous outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793. I used his papers to do two things. First, I was able to track down refugee physicians, surgeons and lay medical writers who corresponded with Girard. Many sustained long-term correspondences with the merchant, so I was even able to track their movement through the early republic and, in some cases, back to different parts of France. Second, I was able to develop a much richer picture of international merchants’ roles in the creation and preservation of Atlantic-wide medical networks during this period. I will surely return to the collection later this year when I really sink into writing the relevant chapter. I had spent less time at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania before my fellowship, confining most of my research during previous trips to work with the large manuscript collection of Doctor Benjamin Rush. This time, I intended to tap into other collections. That included the archive’s impressive holdings of merchants’ records and correspondence. I wanted to develop a better understanding of where international merchants (and shipping networks) might have fit in the circulation of medical information (or debates over disease). I also intended to build on my findings at the American Philosophical Society, College of Physicians of Philadelphia (and New York Academy of Medicine). That research helped me refine my questions, target my searches and use the Historical Society’s collections to build on finds in other archives. The Stephen Girard and John Vaughan papers at the American Philosophical Society, for example, alerted me to both the activities of several Francophone medical actors as well as other international merchants based in or connected to Philadelphia. I used that information and scoured the Historical Society’s enormous print card catalog for any references to those physicians and surgeons. Sure enough, I was able to track down letters by and about several of them in the collections of local physicians, naturalists, printers and merchants. Useful collections included the Benjamin Smith Barton Correspondence, the Simon Gratz Collection, the Mathew Carey Papers and the Hollingsworth Family Papers. I have used my new findings to better flesh out the maps of networks Francophone, Anglophone and Spanish-speaking medical actors created and remapped as they moved through different parts of the Atlantic World. While at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I used the last couple of days of my fellowship period to set up a follow-up research agenda. I developed a long list of different keywords that I could use to search through the card catalog, as so many components of my subject – concepts, places and names – were inevitably categorized and cataloged in more ways than one. Using this technique I was able to track down in diverse collections the letters of several European military medical officers, commercial agents, and foreign civilian physicians who corresponded with Philadelphia-based actors on the subject of yellow fever (and diseases they connected with yellow fever). I will return later this fall to work with that material. The PACHS fellowship has proven tremendously helpful for my work, and in several ways. I appreciated the flexibility of the PACHS fellowship in allowing fellows to visit multiple archives in one period. This made it possible for me to turn finds in one archive into leads for research in nearby collections. I was also able to use material in multiple local archives in order to build a larger argument about Philadelphia’s position in relationship to medical communities in others parts of the Atlantic world. Research into correspondence collections and records of who circulated publications also pushed my thinking in new and important ways. For example, I have begun to reflect more critically on the compass of actors involved in the transnational processes of network and knowledge-building I am analyzing. The role of international merchants and their shipping networks has been especially illuminating. I discovered the different ways in which they mobilized their own socio-cultural capital to help introduce physicians and surgeons into local and trans-local communities, assist those men in tracking down colleagues, secure trusted shipping routes for the circulation of information about disease and therapeutic practices and wielding a breadth in knowledge of languages and regions acquired through trade and travel during this period in order to break down some of the linguistic and cultural barriers that could otherwise obviate transnational medical knowledge exchanges. The PACHS fellowship also gave me an opportunity to link up with early career scholars engaged in related topics. Through our connections to PACHS as fellows (and the website’s announcements of our projects), we were able to get in touch to organize conference panels, set up opportunities to exchange our work and even dip into archives in order to direct one another to overlooked sources.

Katherine Arner