How the bodies of slaves became something on which our world was built — the advance of modern medicine.
200 years ago, slavery extended throughout the world: hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian peasants were in debt bondage to landowners, indigenous slavery was widespread in Africa, and most people in Russia were serfs.
Haitian slaves began to throw off the “heel of the French” in 1791, when they rose up and, after bitter years of fighting, eventually declared themselves free. Their French masters, however, refused to accept Haitian independence. The island, after all, had been an extremely profitable sugar producer, and so Paris offered Haiti a choice: compensate slave owners for lost property — their slaves (that is, themselves) — or face its imperial wrath. The fledgling nation was forced to finance this payout with usurious loans from French banks. As late as 1940, 80% of the government budget was still going to service this debt.