Chelsea Berry


Chelsea Berry, Georgetown University

Richard S. Dunn Dissertation Fellow

“Poisoned Relations: Medicine, Sorcery, and Poison Trials in the Greater Caribbean, 1680-1850”

Over the same period, courts in Bahia, the Dutch Guianas, and Martinique tried hundreds of people of African descent for poisonings that were allegedly accomplished through magical means and connected to medical practices. Chelsea's research investigates the circulation and interaction of ideas about poison in the shared phenomenon of poison trials in the Greater Caribbean from the late seventeenth to mid nineteenth centuries. Using over five hundred trial records in English, French, Portuguese, and Dutch, she argues that there was a specific, temporally bounded, and widely shared relationship between poison, medicine, and sorcery in this period that centered on medical practitioners of African descent involved in poison cases where the affliction, cure, or both were made with sorcery. These poison trials and investigations were central to a long interaction and transformation of ideas about the causes of and solutions to illness as one of the most formative and fundamental challenges faced by people in the Atlantic World. She also has a key interest in approaching poisoning with multiple methods, including quantitative analysis of trial demographics and patterns; thick descriptions of individual cases; and word histories constructed through historical linguistics and philology to get at enduring ideas with long-term changes. 


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