Monday workshop
Monday, February 26, 2018 - 3:30pm

337 Claudia Cohen Hall

'On the teeth of the wind': Medical Meteorology and American Imperialism in the Antebellum Gulf South

The direction, consistency, and temperature of the winds was central to 19th century understandings of health and disease. A kaleidoscopic array of winds - north, east, west, and south, but also trade winds, tropical winds, and sea breezes - swirled across the Gulf South and relentlessly engaged the body. As part of the loosely connected practices of medical geography and meteorology, physicians and other residents recorded data about these winds to make arguments about the quality of a place and its people. In the Gulf South, the drive to eradicate expressions of non-white autonomy in the region and repopulate it with white citizens framed the impulse to make sense of these phenomena.

At the same time, as a public health measure, knowledge of the winds circulated globally with time rise of cholera, which physicians understood as a deeply atmospheric illness. Prevailing understandings of diseases demanded global frames as physicians and public health officials drew on an international context of knowledge production to understand winds that, while influencing local conditions, operated on a much larger scale. Studies of winds become a site of tension between those who focus on local particularities of wind patterns or whether there exist more universal, generalizable theories of winds. Ultimately, the study of winds implicated residents and physicians in an intensely local experience of illness that was at the same time yoked to broader patterns of health and disease.