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Higher Education


Black and white illustration of an African American man assisting an army medical officer with an injured soldier on the battlefield. Courtesy Harper's Weekly.
Harper's Weekly,
August 20, 1864

Courtesy Harper's Weekly

Obstacles and Opportunities: African Americans' Medical Work in the American Civil War module includes three units which focus on understanding mid-nineteenth century medical thought and practice, the medical challenges brought by the Civil War, and the ways the war allowed African Americans to break down barriers blocking them from careers in medicine. The three units divide into six one-hour classes where each class provides instruction resources including introduction, suggested readings, and discussion questions. In addition, this module offers possible student papers or projects, and a bibliography to support further reading and research.

Information about the module's author, suggested use, and academic objectives, is also available online at About the Module.


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Unit 1. Medical Practice in the Mid-Nineteenth Century contains materials for two classes that are designed to give students and teachers important background information on the history of medicine and medical practice during the decades leading up to the American Civil War. The first class describes how disease was understood and treated; the second describes the range of medical practitioners as the war began.

Unit 2. Medicine in the Civil War focuses on medical challenges generated by the war. Millions of men were made sick by the crowding and poor sanitation of camp life; hundreds of thousands were wounded. All needed medical care on a scale unprecedented in American history.

Unit 3. Legacy: African Americans and Civil War Medicine examines the changes that the war brought to race relations and medicine. Most obviously, the war ended slavery, and generated new opportunities and challenges for black men and women. But racism had not ended with the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, and only a few black men and women had the education to fight for formal admission into the medical sphere. This section also examines the "uses" to which the legacy of African Americans in the Civil War can be put in modern conversations about race in America.