Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India

Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India

Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India

Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India


Contagion and Enclaves studies the social history of medicine within two intersecting enclaves in colonial India; the hill station of Darjeeling which incorporated the sanitarian and racial norms of the British Raj; and in the adjacent tea plantations of North Bengal, which produced tea for the global market.


This book is about the interaction between Tropical Medicine, the colonial state and colonial enclaves. The epistemologies and therapeutics of Western science and medicine informed the practices of colonialism in the tropical world from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The European conquest and colonization of the non-European world was imbued with the dread of ‘tropical diseases’ and simultaneously sustained by the practices of settlement in these tropical colonies. In analysing these two processes together, this book investigates the links between Tropical Medicine and colonial enclaves.

The perception of the ‘tropics’ itself changed from the abundant and the paradisiacal in the sixteenth century to dark, dank territories that generated ‘putrefaction’, disease and death by the mid-eighteenth century. In eighteenthcentury European writing, the status of the Indian subcontinent as a distinctively tropical zone was ambivalent due to its vastness and diversity and the prevalence of different ‘climatic zones’ within. This gradual transformation in the idea of the tropics was the consequence of prolonged European interaction with, and experience of, the tropics. Along with these ideas and experiences of the tropics, from the eighteenth century, European traders, sailors and armies built their own commercial, military and social spaces in the tropics. In the Indian subcontinent, initially these were factories (in their eighteenth-century sense factories were European warehouses), fortresses, churches, barracks and white towns that were located near ports and harbours. Through the eighteenth and

1 David Arnold, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800–1850 (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2006); Nancy Stepan, Picturing Tropical Nature (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2001).

2 Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race, Environment and British Imperialism in India, 1600–1850 (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1999).

3 Susan M. Neilds-Basu, ‘Colonial Urbanism: The Development of Madras City in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, Modern Asian Studies, 13 (1979), pp. 217–46;

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