Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Science and Medicine

First Advisor

Warner, John


Modern, capitalist ideas of productivity became central to medicine under slavery. They shaped how physicians treated enslaved patients, crafted a scientific basis for medicine, and conceived of themselves as a profession. Between the late eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth century, white male physicians in Louisiana and Cuba distinguished themselves from other healers: first, by aligning with Spanish colonialism, and then, by making themselves essential to a new form of plantation management that used clock-time discipline, hierarchical divisions of labor, and complex accounting systems. As these technologies became widespread in sugar and cotton production, they helped planters precisely interpret enslaved health and illness in terms of productivity. Physicians, who were seeking a rigorous foundation for medical knowledge production, latched onto planter methods of calculating and controlling enslaved health. One of those methods was what planters and physicians called “sick time,” which was an allotment of time away from work intended to manage illness enough for enslaved people to return to work. However, as physicians used plantation management to cast an air of scientific accuracy over their knowledge, enslaved people reconfigured their own medical practices to make themselves less visible and countable. Drawing on nineteen archives across the United States, Cuba, and Spain; plantation account books; agricultural trade journals; medical journals; medical dissertations; travel accounts; narratives of formerly enslaved people; and medical ethnographies, this dissertation traces the encounters between slavery management, physician medicine, and enslaved medicine. I show how enslaved people used their health and healing practices to subvert plantation time discipline, while physicians became the preferred medical consultants for managers and remained so after emancipation.