Pratik Chakrabarti is a Lecturer in the History of Modern Medicine. He is the Convenor of the postgraduate programme, MA in the History of Science, Medicine, Environment and Technology.
My favourite article is Mark Govier’s ‘The Royal Society, Slavery and the Island of Jamaica: 1660-1700’—in Notes & Records 53 (1999), 203-17. I read the article while I was writing Materials and Medicine; Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century and it was the only article where I found the Caribbean connection of the Royal Society. What is unique about this article is that it identified the various links that the Society had with the uncomfortable history of slavery and slave trade, from its very inception. Written in a dispassionate and yet engaging style, it showed how the charters of the Royal Society referred to slave trade, how its scientific activities were enmeshed with histories of slave labour, and how the overlapping memberships between the Royal Society and the Royal Adventurers meant that its members speculated in and earned profits from slave trade and the sugar plantations. For a historian of colonial science, such as me, it helped to situate the history of the Royal Society, otherwise enshrined in English social and intellectual history, within a colonial setting.
In terms of its contribution to history of science, this article identifies the global links of the Royal Society and its early works on natural history. It also highlights these in the correspondences of Oldenburg and other fellows of the Royal Society. This article was written before ‘global networks’ became fashionable in history of science and thus is a significant precursor to the expanding literature we now have on the global history of science.
The article is free to view: