Ben Goff


I study military hospitals and the tension that exists between individual health and state finances. An early instance of this tension appeared in early modern France where an expanding military hospital system increasingly ate into the war ministry’s budget. From about 1630 until the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the nation’s military-medical apparatus employed two administrative structures in the hopes of relieving the tension between health and finances. In the first structure, called la régie, the state controlled most aspects of hospital administration. Here, a state functionary called a régisseur oversaw the accounts of his designated hospital. He had the power to purchase necessary supplies on credit: everything from food, to medicines, to bandages. Observers held that this “public” option (for lack of a better term) cost more, but produced better-equipped hospitals, and thus saved more lives. The second structure, broadly referred to as l’entreprise, saw private individuals and companies bid to administer military hospitals. By employing these entrepreneurs, the state absolved itself of the administrative duties and financial burdens of overseeing military healthcare. Advocates claimed that this “private” arrangement saved the state money. But, opponents insisted that it exposed the health of soldiers to the vagaries of the market, and was less effective than its “public” counterpart. This public/private dichotomy might seem eerily familiar to present-day readers. In the current atmosphere of uncertainty regarding the U.S. federal government’s place in healthcare, an investigation of how prior generations understood and approached an analogous problem could help reframe our current healthcare crisis.

Taking inspiration from works like Jonathan Engel’s Unaffordable, my project focuses on the economics of an early healthcare system and particularly how market forces and the private sector influenced government healthcare policy. To do this I observe changes in hospital administration between 1630, when this system first arose, and 1815, when the Napoleonic Wars ended. I seek to better understand the merits and pitfalls of the aforementioned administrative structures, and to determine if contemporary assessments were accurate. I ask: how did medical practitioners, bureaucrats, and politicians view and work within both structures? In what situations did the state employ each and why? Were soldiers better cared for under a given administrative structure? I believe that the answers to these questions are more complicated than contemporaries would have us believe. For example, under “public” administration, the war ministry sometimes pressured régisseurs to be conservative with their spending.5 This cost-cutting measure prioritized the financial needs of the state over the medical needs of the soldiers. Consequently, some “publicly” administered hospitals wanted for supplies. In these situations, the “public” administration, which was supposed to be more expensive and provide better care, shared striking similarities with “private” companies, which were supposedly less expensive and provided poorer care. Circumstances like this suggest that neither “public” nor “private” solutions to healthcare are prefect and that governing a healthcare system has always been a tricky business.


Major Field: Early Modern Europe

Minor Fields: Science, Medicine, and the Environment; The Atlantic World; The Islamic World

Conference Presentations

2020-“Cultivating and Deploying Naval Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century French World,” Society for Military History, Washington DC (Cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
2019-“Military Medicine and the Relationship between Knowledge and Empire,” Society for Military History, Columbus OH
2017-“The Milice of Eighteenth-Century France,” Society for Military History, Jacksonville, FL
2017-“Militias in Late Eighteenth-Century France: Reforms and the Revolution,” Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, Charleston, SC
2016-“Provincial Regiments and Service Exemptions in Late Eighteenth-Century France,” Florida State War and Society Workshop, Tallahassee, FL
2016-“Conceptions of Martial Strength in the French Enlightenment,” Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, Shreveport, LA
2016-“Early Modern French Military Culture: A Literary Analysis of the Sixteenth Century,” Southeastern Regional Graduate Conference, Tallahassee, FL
2016-“The Military as a Reflection of National Character: 1800-1815,” International Napoleonic Congress, Dublin, Ireland

Grants, Fellowships and Awards


2021-Masséna Society Dissertation Fellow, The Masséna Society
2020-Harmon Chadbourn Rorison Fellowship, L’Institut Français d’Amérique and the Society for French Historical Studies
2020-Micro Grant, Society for Military History
2019-Masséna Society Dissertation Fellow, The Masséna Society
2018-Mellon Institute in French Paleography Summer Fellow, Newberry Library
2018-Masséna Society Dissertation Fellow, The Masséna Society
2016-Conference Travel Grant, International Napoleonic Society


2021-UROP Materials Grant, Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program
2020-Martin-Vegue Fellowship, Florida State University, dissertation completion grant
2015-Legacy Fellow, Florida State University, competitive graduate school recruitment package
2015-Donald D. Horward Fellow, Florida State University, history department recruitment package


2021-Joe Richardson Excellence in Teaching Award, Florida State University History Department
2015-Fellows Society Inductee, Florida State University Graduate School Honors Society
2011-Best Undergraduate Paper, Pennsylvania East Regional Conference of Phi Alpha Theta