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Medicine and Empire

Lecturer: Jamie Banks

This session will consider the relationship between health, disease, medicine and empire. While the spread of disease initially facilitated the European conquest of the Americas, it subsequently became an obstacle to further expansion as the survival of Europeans in 'tropical' climates was threatened by the high mortality they experienced. Medical considerations were thus an essential component of imperialism, but their benefits were felt unequally. Colonised subjects often experienced public health measures as a physical violation or a means of control. This week's readings focus on colonial medicine in India to illustrate the power dynamics that coloured these interactions.

Seminar/Essay Questions:

  1. To what extent was medicine a ‘tool’ of empire?
  2. What role did racial prejudice play in colonial medicine?
  3. Why was there resistance to to the spread of 'Western' medicine in colonial settings?

Essential Readings:

David Arnold, “Touching the body: Perspectives on the Indian plague,” in R Guha and G Spivak (eds) Selected Subaltern Studies (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 391-426.

Philippa Levine, ‘Venereal Disease, Prostitution, and the Politics of Empire: The Case of British India’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 4 (1994), 579-602.

Further readings:

David Arnold, Colonizing the body: State medicine and epidemic disease in nineteenth-century India (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993).

Nandini Bhattacharya, Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India (Liverpool, 2012)

Pratik Chakrabarti, Medicine and Empire: 1600-1960 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

Rohan Deb Roy, 'Quinine, mosquitoes and empire: reassembling malaria in British India, 1890–1910,' South Asian History 4 (2013), pp.65-86

Waltraud Ernst, ‘Beyond East and West: From the History of Colonial Medicine to a Social History of Medicine(s) in South Asia,’ Social History of Medicine 20 (2007), pp.505-524

Mark Harrison, ‘Towards a Sanitary Utopia? Professional Visions and Public Health in India, 1880-1914’, South Asia Research, 10 (1990),19-41

Mark Harrison, Public Health in British India: Anglo-Indian Preventive Medicine 1859-1914 (Cambridge, 1994)

Daniel Headrick, The tools of empire: Technology and European imperialism in the nineteenth century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981)

Maryinez Lyons, The colonial disease: A social history of sleeping sickness in Northern Zaire, 1900-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Roy MacLeod and Milton Lewis (eds.),Disease, Medicine, and Empire: Perspectives on Western India and the Experience of European Expansion(London, 1988)

Saurabh Mishra, 'Incarceration and Resistance in a Red Sea Lazaretto, 1880-1930' in Alison Bashford (ed.) Quarantine: Local and Global Histories (Basingstoke, 2016).

Samiksha Sehrawat, Colonial Medical Care in North India: Gender, State, and Society, c.1840-1920 (Dehli, 2013)

Keir Waddington, 'Ch. 14: Medicine and Empire', An Introduction to the Social History of Medicine: Europe since 1500 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp.277-297.

Michael Worboys, “Tropical Medicine,” in W Bynum and R Porter (eds), Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 512-536.