24 May 2022 - 24 May 2022
10:00AM - 11:30AM
Seminar Room 1 (HS110), 43 North Bailey
Join Amanda Herbert for a seminar co-organised by IMH and History of Science, Technology and Medicine group for a talk on the lives and experiences of women and men who worked inside medical spa complexes in Britain and the Americas between 1500-1800.
Detail of two Black women next to a waterfall
IMH and the History of Science, Technology and Medicine group present a talk by Amanda Herbert: Labourers and Governors: Spa Medicine and Body Politics c. 1500-1800.
This presentation recovers the lives and experiences of women and men who worked inside of medical spa complexes in Britain and the Americas. Spa cities functioned as a ‘curative commons’, offering free healthcare to anyone who needed it, regardless of their gender, race, status, age, or parish of origin. The people who worked in spas, including maintenance and cleaning staff, transportation workers, water dispensers, and body workers, provided essential services within these cities and enabled spas to maintain their identities as sites of public health. Spa workers came under the control or responsibility of local spa governors, and these politicians, physicians, merchants, and land-owners attempted to exert control over spa workers by curtailing their social and cultural lives; by appropriating and redirecting their pay; and by enforcing punitive workplace measures designed to keep workers in positions of vulnerability. In the metropole, spa governors sidestepped or overlook national legislation which would have aided free, white lower-status workers; in the Americas, governors enslaved spa labourers, exerting utter and permanent control over the lives of these women and men, and the lives of their children, in perpetuity. But as we will see, the people who worked at the spa eked out brief but very meaningful moments of autonomy and agency, using the resources at their disposal to push back when governors took actions which they believed were unjust.
Image credit: Detail of two Black women next to a waterfall, from J.B. Kidd, "Plantain trees (Musa x paradisiaca) growing by a waterfall with two women resting beneath them," c. 1840, image 21064i, Wellcome Collection.