Military Medicine & the Making of Race: Life & Death in the West India Regiments, 1795–1874
Timothy James Lockley
Cambridge University Press 2020
This book demonstrates how Britain's black soldiers helped shape attitudes towards race throughout the nineteenth century. The West India Regiments were part of the British military establishment for 132 years, generating vast records with details about every one of their 100,000+ recruits which made them the best-documented group of black men in the Atlantic World. Tim Lockley shows how, in the late eighteenth century, surgeons established in medical literature that white and black bodies were radically different, forging a notion of the 'superhuman' black soldier able to undertake physical challenges far beyond white soldiers. By the late 1830s, however, military statisticians would contest these ideas and highlight the vulnerabilities of black soldiers instead. The popularity and pervasiveness of these publications spread far beyond British military or medical circles and had a significant international impact, particularly in the US, both reflecting and reinforcing changing notions about blackness.