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Empires of Disease : Criminal Encounters, Contagious Nations, and Archives of U.S. Culture and Literature


Empires of Disease explores the figure of the "prisoner- patient" in literature, culture, and archives of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, specifically within the contexts of incarceration and medicine in Hawai'i, Louisiana, and California. I focus on representations of prisoner-patients in order to interrogate dominant perceptions of medicine as a humanitarian enterprise, examining the historical convergence of race, colonialism, culture, and medicine in archives and artifacts. When analyzed together, these texts reveal an enduring tradition of discussing medical experimentation on "wards of the state," often rationalizing the use of dehumanizing experiments on racialized prisoners. Chapters one and two examine the case of Keanu, a Native Hawaiian prisoner who was sentenced to death in 1884. Analyzing Keanu's commuted death sentence, which was granted after he consented to experimental leprosy inoculations, I posit connections between Keanu's value as a racialized prisoner-patient and the colonial conditions leading to U.S. annexation in 1898. In chapter three, I examine imperial tensions within cultural texts written about the Pacific Islands and Oceania, including travel writing, fiction, and medical history. Chapter four turns to the Carville Leprosarium in Louisiana to examine connections between colonial medicine, race, and the formations of a national public health institution. I read patient and prisoner memoirs as documentation of racialized criminality to argue that Carville, as a medicalized carceral space, frames public health law and discourse as a form of racial property. In chapter five I examine medical internment at the Los Angeles Olive View Sanitarium in the 2008 novel The Captain of All These Men of Death by Alejandro Morales, arguing that such narratives expand our conception of prison literature and U.S. national history by linking medical violence to ideologies of nation, progress, and citizenship. Through an analysis of the prisoner-patient in hospital and prison spaces, print culture, official history, and cultural production, Empires of Disease argues that these enduring legacies of empire, state- sanctioned violence, and cultural texts reveal a deeply contested transnational history

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