7 April 2023 — 12:00 noon — GAR 4.100

Pablo F. Gómez (Univ. of Wisconsin)

“Body Arithmetic: Facts, Quantification, and the Human in the Seventeenth Century Black Atlantic”

This talk examines the history of the slave trade in the early modern Iberian Atlantic and Caribbean and its relationship to the emergence of novel practices related to the study and quantification of bodies and nature and the emergence of ideas about body facticity. The mathematics of early slave trading societies, Gómez argues, carried meaning that reified and institutionalized body quantification and population/group thinking in relation to labor, health, and disease. The everyday practice of accounting for enslaved African bodies shaped and solidified the logic and permanence of bodily quantification as the fundamental tool for measuring populations, their bodies, and their relationship to emerging notions of risk, political economy, public health, and epidemiology in the early-modern world. Focusing on the relationship between the violent world of slavery, emerging colonial capitalism, and African diasporic histories of knowledge-making brings to light the fundamental continuity that exists between the enslavement of millions of Africans and the history of modern quantifiable ideas about corporeality.

Pablo F. Gómez is Associate Professor in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics, and the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic. His latest book, The Gray Zones of Medicine (an edited volume), explores the history of health practices in Latin America from the 16th to the 21st century through the biographies of unlicensed healers. Gómez is currently working on a history of facts, quantification, and bodies in the seventeenth century Atlantic World. He is also collaborating on several projects broadly related to global histories of science and Medicine and histories of enslavement, health, and corporeality in the Caribbean and Latin America.

This talk is co-sponsored by the Department of  Religious Studies and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.


24 March 2023 — 12:00 noon — GAR 4.100 

Jan Todd (UT)

“The Scientist and the Strongman: John Theophilus Desaguliers, Thomas Topham, and the Early Search for the Limits of Human Strength”

J. T. Desaguliers (1683–1744) was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a leading early popularizer of Newtonian science. In the 1710s he became fascinated with the question of human strength when he saw a German strongman performing some lifts that looked to him as if they were mechanically aided, fakery that he described at a Royal Society meeting. In 1733, Desaguliers brought the strongman Thomas Topham to a meeting of the Society. Topham had true strength and this “show and tell” event is recorded in the minutes of the Society. Desaguliers’s interest in strength also led him to invent one of the earliest dynamometers, an important instrument for measuring force.


Professor Jan Todd directs the Physical Culture and Sport Studies Doctoral Program in UT’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. She is also the founder (with her late husband Terry Todd) of the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports and serves as its director. Todd’s research examines the history of exercise and body culture with a special emphasis on the history of strength and sports medicine.  Her most recent book is Strength Coaching in America: A History of the Innovation that Transformed Sports (UT Press, 2019; coauthored with Jason Shurley and Terry Todd).