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

Myers, Christopher (2016) Steering the Seas of Reform: Education, Empirical Science, and Royal Naval Medicine, 1815-1860. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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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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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Myers, Christopherchm73@pitt.eduCHM73
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairDrescher, Seymoursyd@pitt.eduSYD
Committee CoChairChase, Williamwchase@pitt.eduWCHASE
Committee MemberHughes, Melaniehughesm@pitt.eduHUGHESM
Committee MemberManning, Patrickpmanning@pitt.eduPMANNING
Committee MemberRediker, Marcusred1@pitt.eduRED1
Date: 3 October 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 2 August 2016
Approval Date: 3 October 2016
Submission Date: 13 June 2016
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 419
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: naval medical officers, medical education, tropical medicine, Royal Navy, naturalists, prosopography
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2016 13:48
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2019 18:27


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