Race and the Question of Human Bodily Need in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire

Nicholas Crawford

February 5, 2019, 12:45–13:45


Room MF 323

IAST Lunch Seminar


How do you reckon an adequate subsistence for a laboring adult? Conceptions of what exactly constitutes human need are as political as they are scientific or economic. This talk examines efforts on the part of British imperial officials to establish a universal scale of food allowances for slaves in the Caribbean colonies from the 1790s to the 1830s. I will show how the earliest dietary policies of the British state were crafted in order to ensure labor productivity and social discipline among colonial and domestic subjects ranging from West Indian slaves to British agricultural and industrial workers, paupers, and prisoners. However, I will conclude by tracing how the hardening of racial attitudes and a growing disillusionment with the abolitionist belief in a “universal” human nature helped to foreclose cross-institutional modes of governance in mid-nineteenth century Britain.