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Bacteriology in British India


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During the nineteenth century, European scientists and physicians considered the tropics the natural home of pathogens. Hot and miasmic, the tropical world was the locus of disease, for Euopeans the great enemy of civilization. In the late nineteenth century when bacteriological laboratories and institutions were introduced to British India, they were therefore as much an imperial mission to cleanse and civilize a tropical colony as a medical one to eradicate disease. Bacteriology offered a panacea in colonial India, a way by which the multifarious political, social, environmental, and medical problems and anxieties, intrinsically linked to its diseases, could have a single resolution.
Bacteriology in British India is the first book to provide a social and cultural history of bacteriology in colonial India, situating it within the confluence of advances in germ theory, Pastuerian vaccines, colonial medicine, laboratory science, and British imperialism. It recounts the genesis of bacteriology and laboratory medicine in India through a complex history of conflict and alignment between Pasteurism and British imperial medicine. By investigating an array of laboratory notes, medical literature, and literary sources, the volume links colonial medical research with issues of poverty, race, nationalism, and imperial attitudes toward tropical climate and wildlife, contributing to a wide field of scholarship like the history of science and medicine, sociology of science, and cultural history.

Pratik Chakrabarti is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Kent, UK.


This monograph . . . deserves attention for its use of a huge amount of evidence, for filling in a glaring gap in our understanding of colonial medicine, and for challenging and modifying our understanding of colonial medicine in important new ways. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE

This book is a meticulously researched appraisal of the meanings of bacteriology and the laboratory. It provides an authoritative challenge to the generalist assumptions inherent in Euro-centered writing. It is bound to become a vital reference source for future research. ISIS

Pratik Chakrabarti's book is enormously enlightening. Its most obvious achievement is a framing of the history of bacteriology from the perspective of global history. A true eye-opener, it is set to provide insight and inspiration for future studies of the history of medical bacteriology and of colonial science. BULLETIN OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE

This is a highly innovative study that explores the intersections of laboratory science, medicine, and colonial imperialism. In it, Pratik Chakrabarti persuasively reveals how a blend of Pasteurian ideology and an older "climatic medicine" produced a new imperial morality in India. --Ilana Löwy, senior research fellow, INSERM, Paris

[T]his is an extremely detailed book, whose every page is crammed with information from across a diverse range of primary sources. . . . The sheer volume of material present reinforces the meticulous and thorough nature of the research." BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE

Chakrabarti . . . is placing the seemingly benign paternalism of the colonial powers squarely and uncomfortably into relief. To this end, he is continuing a laudable trend in his own writing that relentlessly investigates the claims made about 'improvement' in the colonial crucibles of experimentation. As such, this is an essential contribution to the literature of the history of medicine in India. MEDICAL HISTORY

This is a stimulating volume for scholars, teachers and students doing sciences/social sciences and anyone who yearns to know the politics about the establishment of laboratories and animal experimentation or in other words 'the intellectual, social and cultural history of bacteriology in British India'. STUDIES IN HISTORY


First Published: 31 Oct 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580464086
Pages: 316
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: University of Rochester Press

Details updated on 30 Apr 2016


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Bacteriology in India: A Moral Paradigm
  • 3  Moral Geographies of Tropical Bacteriology
  • 4  Imperial Laboratories and Animal Experiments
  • 5  "A Land Full of Wild Animals": Snakes, Venoms, andImperial Antidotes
  • 6  Pasteurian Paradigm and Vaccine Research in India
  • 7  Pathoge ns and Places: Cholera Research in the Tropics
  • 8  Conclusion
  • 9  Notes
  • 10  Bibliography
  • 11  Index

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