Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



State of Health recasts the long history of emancipation in the United States. Emancipation is conventionally framed as a transition from lash to cash, wherein the federal government abandoned the formerly enslaved to the free labor system of the postbellum South. Yet this picture fails to account for the hundreds of thousands of intimate interactions freedpeople had with federal officials of the U.S. Pension Bureau in the decades after the Civil War. This dissertation accordingly shows how the personal rule of the slaveholder gave way to the personal rule of the American central state.

The first chapters demonstrate that the enslaved faced a regime preoccupied with the control of bodies that closely connected those bodies with surrounding physical environments. The Civil War not only destroyed slavery, but also ushered in a new regime of understanding and controlling the health of the laboring black body. Chapter three explains how state projects of legibility stripped away the environmental considerations in the monitoring and controlling of bodily health. If slaveholders and others saw the health of laboring black men, women, and children as embedded before the war, afterwards government and medical officials saw it as embodied. This transformation is vital to understanding the story of slave emancipation in the United States because it set the parameters for how hundreds of thousands of freedpeople would encounter federal officials for decades after emancipation, and shaped the terms of struggle over black citizenship in the late nineteenth century. The final two chapters detail how former slaves grappled with the U.S. Pension Bureau. Through countless medical and legal examinations freedpeople presented their evidence of suffering and bodily trauma in the hopes of receiving a monthly pension and recognition of sacrifice.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Iver Bernstein

Committee Members

Adrienne Davis, Gerald Early, Margaret Garb, Peter Kastor,


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