The Dark Side to Donovanosis: Color, Climate, Race and Racism in American South Venereology [Book Review]

Journal of Medical Humanities 18 (1):29-57 (1997)
Medical experimentation on humans with “classic” sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., syphilis, gonorrhea) is not generally well known, but experimentation with others such as Granuloma inguinale, or Donovanosis, is even less so. Endemic to non-existent here, hyper-epidemic there, between 1880 and 1950 Donovanosis was linguistically and morally “constructed” as a disease of poor, sexually profligate, tropical, darkly-skinned persons. It was also experimentally produced on and in African-American patients in many charity hospitals in the American South. This essay analyzes Donovanosis literature of the period that heavily featured skin color, climate and tropicality, venereal sin, and racial susceptibility. It then recounts the history of human experimentation with it, and explains both its linguistic construction and its biomedical experimental history in terms of “disease narratives” produced not only by but for venereologists
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