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This paper draws from my PhD research on missionary print culture and medical knowledge in Britain and the South Pacific in the early nineteenth century. Focusing on two oceanic voyages of London Missionary Society (LMS) missionaries to the South Pacific, it shows how missionary understandings of disease and medicine were transformed and shaped by their experiences at sea and interactions with other voyagers. It demonstrates how the physical, emotional and religious challenges of the journey affected their thinking on the value of medical knowledge and its relationship to evangelism. From debilitating seasickness to the spread of disease, their experiences on board made them acutely aware of their physical vulnerabilities, as well as the limited medical support from the Directors in London. This led some missionaries to invest in medical literature, becoming their ‘own doctors’ in the field, and others to question their connection to the LMS altogether. In doing so, this paper builds on the rich and flourishing field of scholarship on maritime history, and it opens up a space in which to discuss the mobility of missionary medical understandings and how the Pacific oceanic context was entangled in contemporary debates about the environment, medicine and religion.

Kate Tilson is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Cambridge.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.