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The Australian National University

Seminar | 'Whites, Blacks and Tawneys': Perceptions of Native Americans in the Early Modern Anglo-Atlantic


Tuesday, 23 May 2017 - 4:30pm - 5:45pm


Seminar Room 1, Sir Roland Wilson Building


Dr Mark Dawson
Image credit: J. Smith, The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), pp.40~41. Library of Congress.

It is widely accepted that the dominant medical paradigm in early modern England was humoral. On the basis of ancient authorities, indirectly Hippocrates and quintessentially Galen, human physiology was commonly believed to comprise four elemental fluids: the sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic humours – albeit in diverse combinations.

In this paper, I aim to show how humoralism allowed the English to take the measure of New World strangers during the long seventeenth century. Indigenous bodies were considered unhealthy and, therefore, not actually native to the Americas. Historians have long recognised the prevalence of such attitudes among English adventurers and settlers. Yet these attitudes have often been assessed according to modern biological and racial paradigms, rather than on their own terms. Therefore, their original significance has perhaps been misunderstood.

Mark S. Dawson lectures in early modern history at the ANU, in the School of History (RSSS). This semester he holds an HRC–RSSS fellowship for the completion of his monograph, Bodies complexioned. Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c.1600–1750.

Updated: 22 June 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Head, HRC / Page Contact:  HRC administration