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The Empire Writes Back: Biomedicine and its alternatives in Colonial India (David Hardiman)

India was a region with many of its own longstanding medical systems, ranging from the humoral-based systems of Ayurveda, Unani Tibb and Siddha, to various forms of surgery, to herbal remedies and exorcism of evil spirits which were believed to attack people’s health. A highly effective preventive form of vaccination was already used against smallpox. In the early years of contact, Europeans were often prepared to learn from Indian doctors in a number of ways. This situation changed during the nineteenth century, as Europeans became increasingly convinced of the superiority of their own systems of medicine. The links between indigenous forms of practice and religion were deplored. This all formed a part of a general attack on folk medicine by European doctors – which was seen as quackery and unscientific. By the mid-19th century indigenous medical practitioners were being depicted as charlatans, their work even criminalized. This led to a backlash from such practitioners, who began to change their practices in ways that they hoped would legitimise them. The way that this linked up with the Indian nationalist movement will be examined.


Core Reading (* in front of a title means that the work is available in the library)

* David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (California 1993). Excellent study of British handling of epidemic disease.

* David Arnold (ed.), Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies (Manchester 1988).

* David Arnold (ed.), Warm Climates and Western medicine: The Emergence of Tropical medicine 1500-1900 (Amsterdam 1996).

* David Arnold, Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India, (Cambridge 2000).

* C. Bayly, Empire and Information, chapter 7, pp.264-283 is on medical knowledge in India.

* David Hardiman, ‘Indian Medical Indigeneity: From Nationalist Assertion to the Global Market’, Social History, Vol. 34, No. 3, August 2009, pp.263-83.

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

* Mark Harrison, Climate and Constitutions: Health, Race, environment and British Imperialism in India, 1600-1850, (New Delhi 1999).

* Ira Klein, ‘Death in India’, Journal of Asian Studies 32: 639-59 (1973)

* Anil Kumar, Medicine and the Raj: British medical Policy in India 1835-1911 (New Delhi 1998).

* Deepak Kumar, ‘Medical Encounters in British India, 1820-1920’, in Economic and Political Weekly, 25 January 1997.

* R. Macleod (ed.), Disease, Medicine and Empire: Perspectives in Western Medicine and the Experience of European Expansion (London 1988)

* Helen Lambert, ‘Plural Traditions? Folk Therapeutics and 'English' Medicine in Rajasthan,’ in Andrew Cunningham and Bridie Andrews (eds.), Western Medicine as Contested Knowledge (1997)

* Radhika Ramasubban, ‘Imperial Health in British India 1857-1900’, in R. MacLeod and M. Lewis, Disease, Medicine and Empire (London 1988).

Pati, Biswamoy and Mark Harrison (eds.), Health, Medicine and Empire: Perspectives on Colonial India (New Delhi 2001).

* Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (London 1997). Chapter 7 is on traditional systems of medicine in India.