The business of race-making in the Torrid Zone: Dr. Jonathan Troup’s illustrated diary of Dominica, 1789-90

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article focuses on the manuscript diary of a Scottish doctor, Jonathan Troup, who during a truncated fifteen-month period from 1789-1790, practiced medicine on the island of Dominica, part of the climatic ‘Torrid Zone’ in the British West Indies. While the relevant textual contents of his diary are already familiar to scholars of medical humanities, the analysis seeks to complement and extend these existing discussions by addressing an aspect of the illustrated and inscribed pages of Troup’s diary that has not been previously discussed, namely his diurnal account of race-making. The article argues that Troup was a product of Scottish Enlightenment medical training, with its blended curricula of medicine, natural history and moral philosophy. The diary in turn, is shown to be a product of the diagnostic tools of that education, which equipped practitioners with the skills to classify human diversity through careful observation in the colonial field. In his diurnal sketches, Troup employs a tiered racial system or calculus of colour to differentiate between peoples of different races, based on the visual proximity of their skin to either European whiteness or shades of blackness associated with African descent. In the textual descriptions that variously accompany, envelope, elucidate and ignore the drawings, Troup’s race-making schema is shown to be informed by factors other than the gradations of skin complexion, including social temper and moral temperament. Such factors are given particular prominence in his discussion of multi-racial women, making gender an innate constituent of his race-making schema. The article is framed by the concept of business, which for most professionals in the Caribbean involved more than one economic occupation. It offers a prognosis as to the significance of Troup’s diary for a range of academic disciplines, historical, literary and visual, and their discreet historiographies which pertain to his imperial careering.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-155
Number of pages49
JournalThe Scottish Historical Review
Early online date21 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • race
  • colonial business
  • medicine
  • eighteenth century


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