Bacteriology in British India

Bacteriology in British India: Laboratory Medicine and the Tropics

Pratik Chakrabarti
Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x7463
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  • Book Info
    Bacteriology in British India
    Book Description:

    Bacteriology transformed colonial medicine from a focus on public health and hygiene to unlimited possibilities for the eradication of diseases. It also fiercely engaged public discourse on the ethics of animal and human experimentation. 'Bacteriology in British India' is the first book to provide a social and cultural history of bacteriology in colonial India, situating it at the confluence of colonial medical practices, institutionalization, and social movements. Bacteriology was established in India through a complex process of conflict and alignment between Pasteurism and British imperial medicine. This led to divergences and tensions within bacteriology as practiced in Europe and the tropical colonies: in ideas of climate and potency of vaccines, in laboratory methods, in the ethical principles of experimentations, and in the discourses of racial immunity and endemicity of diseases. Scientists like Semple, Haffkine, Cunningham, Brunton, Simond, and Lustig worked in the several Indian Pasteur Institutes and the Central Research Institute, established from 1900, on vaccines for rabies, plague, typhoid, cholera, and snake venom. They conducted vaccinations in Indian cantonments, cities, hospitals, slums, jails, railway stations, villages, and pilgrim sites. The book describes how in the process India became a vast experimental field for bacteriology. By investigating a vast array of laboratory notes, medical literature, and literary sources, the book links colonial medical research with issues of poverty, race, nationalism, and attitudes toward tropical climate and wildlife. It contributes to a wide field of scholarship like imperial and South Asian history, history of science and medicine, sociology of science, and cultural history. Pratik Chakrabarti is senior lecturer in history at the University of Kent, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-791-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: Bacteriology in the Tropics
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 1894, on a summer morning in Calcutta, the Jewish-Russian scientist Waldemar M. Haffkine dressed formally in a suit and tie went out to vaccinate slum dwellers of the imperial city against cholera. He had built a small workplace nearby where he prepared his vaccines every day. His work started early in the morning when he and his Bengali assistant, Dr. Chowdhury, prepared the vaccines to begin inoculations before sunrise, before the slum dwellers left for their daily labor. Haffkine and his assistant worked in the blazing sun with an umbrella as cover. After a break in the afternoon, they...

  7. Chapter One Bacteriology in India: A Moral Paradigm
    (pp. 25-60)

    Germs found new life and meanings in the tropics. They added new depth to the phenomenon of putrefaction previously associated with hot climates. Following the emergence of the idea of germs as causal organisms of diseases, European physicians and scientists no longer perceived the tropics as merely hot and miasmatic places, they also, it appeared, saw them as infested with germs. The identification of specific viruses and bacteria for diseases provided both optimism about the European colonization of and habitation in the tropics and, simultaneously and paradoxically, raised new apprehensions about germs in the tropics. While bacteriology provided the possibility...

  8. Chapter Two Moral Geographies of Tropical Bacteriology
    (pp. 61-85)

    Bacteriological laboratories in India emerged out of a particular confluence of British and French medical and imperial discourses. While the intersection of two diverse medical traditions promised new breakthroughs in imperial medicine, it was also entrenched in existing modes of imperial medical form and praxis. It is through this process of assimilation that germ theory and Pasteur institutes acquired a unique specifi city in the tropics. Imperial attitudes toward the tropics and a Victorian moralistic distaste of tropical pathogens shaped the Pasteur institutes and bacteriological practices in India. In the process, tropical bacteriology came to function within a “moral geography.”...

  9. Chapter Three Imperial Laboratories and Animal Experiments
    (pp. 86-112)

    Once bacteriological laboratories and Pasteur institutes began to be established, the ethics of laboratory research in India assumed critical proportions. The institutes required massive animal resources. To give one example, the production of a single (Semple antirabic) vaccine in one Pasteur institute required six thousand rabbits annually.¹ The quaint, idyllic, and peaceful hills where the British established their bacteriological laboratories became the sites of extensive animal experimentation in India. The question is, how was this prodigious animal resource secured for scientific research in colonial India? In other words, how did bacteriology harness its beasts of burden in the empire? This...

  10. Chapter Four “A Land Full of Wild Animals”: Snakes, Venoms, and Imperial Antidotes
    (pp. 113-141)

    As the Pasteur institutes and bacteriological laboratories were established in India, rabies became an important concern for British physicians and residents. This was common in the French colonies as well, where the colonial Pasteur institutes often “actively sought” cases of rabies to popularize the antirabic vaccine.¹ As referred to earlier, in India rabies and the pariah street dogs captured increasing medical attention beginning in the 1890s. This was a relatively recent preoccupation and it overshadowed another and different British tradition in India beginning in the eighteenth century of studying injury and death caused by the bites of animals. Historically, the...

  11. Chapter Five Pasteurian Paradigm and Vaccine Research in India
    (pp. 142-178)

    Decomposition of vaccines in a tropical climate was an important concern for colonial bacteriologists. This apprehension coexisted with a fear of the virulence of viruses in the tropics. In studying a particular vaccine research program over three decades, this chapter shows how these two fears shaped laboratory research in British India. The development of the Semple antirabic vaccine was a unique but little known research program undertaken in colonial India between 1910 and 1935. Originally developed by David Semple at the CRI in Kasauli in 1911, it was the most commonly used antirabic vaccine throughout the world in the twentieth...

  12. Chapter Six Pathogens and Places: Cholera Research in the Tropics
    (pp. 179-210)

    This final chapter is on twentieth-century laboratory research in cholera, the archetypical tropical disease. I will juxtapose laboratory research with epidemiological studies and contest the argument put forward by historians that biomedicine and epidemiology and the introduction of ecological factors in the twentieth century led to a greater holism in medicine.¹ I will argue that in the tropical colonies ecology and epidemiology were as limitative concepts as was the laboratory. I will then explore why, despite these new medical ideas and various developments in the medical sciences, tropical regions continue to be stricken with diseases. This apparently straightforward agenda has...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-216)

    This book has traced the intellectual, social, and cultural history of bacteriology and laboratory medicine in British India. In the process of fi nding its home in India, bacteriology led to the creation of several new institutions and made unique intellectual connections with imperialism and tropical medicine. Bacteriology was introduced to India through a long public movement in which British physicians, scientists, and administrators as well as Indian elites participated. Several institutions, such as the Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory at Poona, which later moved to Mukteswar; the Pasteur institutes at Kasauli, Coonoor, Rangoon, Shillong, and Calcutta; and the Central Research Institute...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 217-256)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-284)
  16. Index
    (pp. 285-304)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)