Military Medicine and the Making of Race: Life and Death in the West India Regiments (Cambridge University Press, 2020) by Tim Lockley 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.
R. Grant Kleiser is a Ph.D. candidate in the Columbia University History Department. His dissertation researches the development of the free-port system in the eighteenth-century Caribbean, investigating the rationale for such moves towards “free trade” and the impact these policies had on subsequent philosophers, policy-makers, and revolutionaries in the Atlantic world.