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Therapeutic Commodities: Trade, Transmission and the Material Culture of Global Medicine

Therapeutic commodities – goods considered valuable for the improvement of health – have local
as well as global histories. This project aims to understand the history of therapeutic commodities
by using a material culture approach, meaning a focus on socio-cultural contexts in which humans
assign meanings to commodities, as well as analysis of their materiality: the qualities and meanings
assigned to substances, the ways in which substances came into being, including technologies that
created, developed and produced the commodity. I propose to view these two as mutually
constitutive aspects of a material approach to medicine. Studies of trade and the transmission of
medical knowledge tend to reduce therapeutic commodities either to unchanging goods that move
in line with supply and demand, or to characteristic features representing separate systems of
knowledge. Instead, this project seeks to bring together scholars who work on therapeutic
commodities across time (from the early modern to the contemporary) and space (Eurasia, South
Asia, Africa and the Americas), and in different academic environments, to challenge existing
narratives about the circulation of therapeutic commodities. The ultimate aim is to write a new
history of therapeutic commodities, mapping their global socio-political and cultural lives across
time and space.

There will be three events associated with this WT network:

Event 1:

10-12 April 2018, Fudan University, Shanghai, in collaboration with Professor Gao Xi, History Department, Fudan University. For details, see here.

Event 2:

11-12 May 2018, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg. The programme can be found here.

Event 3:

Health and materiality: Histories of Health, Medicine and Trade across Cultures, 1600-2000
5-6 November 2018
Venue: Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Confirmed keynote speakers for this event are Professor Pratik Chakrabarti (University of Manchester) and Professor David Arnold (University of Warwick). A call for papers inviting applications to participate, aimed mostly at (junior) scholars in India will be circulated shortly.

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