Ben Goff - Martin-Vegue Fellow in Fall 2020

How do states determine the value of life and health? This is the question that Ben Goff, PhD candidate in French history, asks in his research. On the one hand we cringe at the notion of subjecting life and health to financial considerations; but on the other, the state must not bankrupt itself when treating the medical needs of every suffering citizen. While life might be precious, it is not priceless, and cannot be disentangled from economic realities.

Ben’s research explores how the French war ministry deal with this conundrum between 1747 and 1815. France employed both private and public systems of administration for its military hospitals. Ben will unravel the pitfalls of both these systems by asking: how did medical practitioners, bureaucrats, and politicians view and work within both systems? In what situations did the state employ which system? Were soldiers and sailors better cared for in a publicly- or privately-administered facility?

With the fellowship, Ben plans to return to France, in the first instance, to complete his research in various archives in Paris as well as departmental archives rich in records on military affairs. After that he will continue with writing his dissertation.

The unexpected find in the archives: doodles from the 1790s.