Art Hx: Visual and Medical Legacies of British Colonialism

Four small square drawings of a patch of skin on an unnamed enslaved child. Each square illustrates the stages of skin ulceration caused by the bacterial disease called Yaws.

Title: James Thomson, MD, Stages of the Eruption in Yaws, 1819, Colored engraving, published by A Constable & Co, Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol 15, Issue 60, 1819, 328.

Artist/Maker: James Thomson

Date: 1819

Source: U.S National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health

Copyright/Permissions: Thomson, James. “Observations and Experiments on the Nature of the Morbid Poison Called Yaws, with Coloured Engravings of the Eruption.” Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 15, no. 60 (1819): 321-328. US National Library of Medicine. CC BY-NC 4.0.

References: James Thomson, “Observations and Experiments on the Nature of the Morbid Poison Called Yaws, with Coloured Engravings of the Eruption,” Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 15, no. 60 (July 1, 1819): 321–28, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5845271/; Londa Schiebinger, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), 50-57; 99–112.

Location(s): St. Thomas in the Vale, Jamaica

Commentary: These drawings made by Scottish physician John Thomson show the results of an experimentation he conducted on enslaved children, to test the efficacy of inoculation – artificially inducing immunity to a disease – against Yaws. He published them along with his observations in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, which is still in circulation today. These images, and Thomson’s observations, reveal how enslaved people’s bodies are integral to the history of medicine, yet remain erased from the record.

Art Hx