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Charles Nicolle, Pasteur's Imperial Missionary

Charles Nicolle, Pasteur's Imperial Missionary: Typhus and Tunisia

Kim Pelis
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 418
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  • Book Info
    Charles Nicolle, Pasteur's Imperial Missionary
    Book Description:

    This book examines the biomedical research of Nobel Prize-winning bacteriologist Charles Nicolle during his tenure as director of the Pasteur Institute of Tunis. Using typhus as its lens, it demonstrates how the complexities of early twentieth century bacteriology, French imperial ideology, the "Pastorian mission," and conditions in colonial Tunisia blended to inform the triumphs and disappointments of Nicolle's fascinating career. It illuminates how these diverse elements shaped Nicolle's personal identity, the identity of his institute, and his innovative conception of the "birth, life, and death" -- or, the emergence and eradication -- of infectious disease. Kim Pelis blends exhaustive archival research with a close reading of Nicolle's written work -- scientific papers, philosophical treatises, and literary contributions -- to explore the complex relations between biomedical ideas and sociocultural context. The result is a study that will be of interest not only to students of French history, colonial medicine, and the history of the biomedical sciences but also to anyone seeking to understand how individuals have attempted to deal creatively with complex times and ambiguous knowledge. Kim Pelis, a medical historian by training, is a writer for the director of the National Institutes of Health.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-656-1
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Prelude: The Substance of Shadows
    (pp. xv-xx)

    Charles Nicolle was a Nobel Prize–winning French bacteriologist. Director of the Pasteur Institute of Tunis from 1903 until his death in 1936, he was founder and editor of the institute’sArchivesand prime mover of the (French-) Tunisian medical “cosmos” he had carefully orchestrated to revolve around that institute. He is best known for his 1909 demonstration of the louse transmission of typhus—research that helped earn him the Nobel. He also made significant contributions to the understanding of—among other diseases—relapsing fever, toxoplasmosis, trachoma, and kala-azar. On a level at once theoretical and practical, he constructed a...

  7. Introduction: The Door of the Sadiki
    (pp. 1-14)

    Charles Nicolle is remembered today as the man who won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, largely for his demonstration that the louse transmitted typhus. Outside France and Tunisia, he is principally remembered through his Nobel speech—and, from it, for the above discovery narrative. The “hospital” to which he referred was the Sadiki Hospital in Tunis, where Tunisian patients were treated. The moment when his revelatory walk took place is less clear. It may have been any time between 1903 and 1909. The best guess is 1906, but Nicolle never really specified. Also unclear is when Nicolle...

  8. Part One Thesis:: Embracing Missions

    • 1 Staring at the Sea: Nicolle and the Pasteur Institute of Tunis
      (pp. 17-46)

      For historical reasons, Charles Nicolle was captivated by the town of Carthage in his newly adopted country of Tunisia. Its faded glory, its cultural heritage, came to inform his ideas about civilization and to animate his works of fiction. For more visually aesthetic reasons, though, he loved the village of Sidi Bou Saïd. “Sidi Bou” lay (as it does today) about 20 kilometers northeast of Tunis, on a hill overlooking the sea.¹ There, drinking mint tea at a café, Nicolle would hold court, discussing the composition of the country’s many ancient mosaics with archeologist friend Père Delattre, lamenting the perils...

    • 2 The Threshold of Civilization: Typhus in Tunisia (1903–11)
      (pp. 47-74)

      “Thehistory of typhus,” wrote August Hirsch in his classic nineteenth-centuryHandbook of Geographical and Historical Pathology,“is written in those dark pages of the world’s story which tell of the grievous visitations of mankind by war, famine, and misery of every kind.”¹ Besides its association with poor conditions in temperate climates, typhus fever remained mysterious even after enthusiastic applications of the germ theory had clarified the inner workings of many other diseases. By the time Nicolle adopted the disease for special attention in the first decade of the twentieth century, it had been more clearly differentiated from typhoid fever...

  9. Part Two Rupture:: Things Fall Apart

    • 3 Light & Shadow: Lousy War and Fractured Peace (1911–19)
      (pp. 77-110)

      In the bright light of medical science’s triumph over typhus in Tunisia, Ernest Conseil was haunted by a growing shadow of doubt.¹ It was not that he had reservations about the transmission discovery per se: even if some medical researchers remained unpersuaded by evidence of the louse’s unique role in spreading typhus, the insect was, Conseil believed, the disease’s vector.² It was thewaythe louse transmitted typhus that concerned him. Nicolle had announced with great fanfare that lice spread typhus bybitingtheir victims. Indeed, he had waited to make his announcement about the path of typhus spread until...

  10. Part Three Antithesis:: Mosaics of Pieces

    • 4 Alliances: “Emperor of the Mediterranean?” (1918–25)
      (pp. 113-143)

      On December 27, 1922, “the whole world” celebrated “the centenary of the birth of Pasteur.” Pasteur’s son-in-law, René Vallery-Radot—who had already paid tribute to his wife’s famous father by naming his son Louis Pasteur—helped set the festive international tone with his hagiographic article “Why the Whole World Glorifies Pasteur.”¹ Colonial extension helped ensure that the chorus of “hosannas” found voice at the earth’s four corners. In Tunisia, Vallery-Radot’s article was read to all schoolchildren as part of an hour-long discussion of Pasteur’s many contributions to humanity. To help them remember their lesson, the children were presented with a...

    • 5 Invisible Forces: or, Action at a Distance (1925–28)
      (pp. 144-170)

      From the war years on, Nicolle enjoyed a steady stream of scientific visitors to his colonial institute. Members of the parasitology lab of the Faculté de Médecine de Paris—one of his favored providers of new collaborators—frequently came to Tunis to conduct research.¹ In 1923, he welcomed Dr. Salvadore Mazza, Professor of Microbiology at the Faculty of Medicine of Buenos Aires; two years later, Mazza played gracious host to Nicolle during his mission to Argentina.² Yet another of Nicolle’s frequent visitors was John Reenstierna. A professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Stockholm, Reenstierna initially came to the IPT...

  11. Part Four Synthesis:: Mosaics of Power

    • 6 Reservoir Docs: Birth, Life, and Death of Infectious Disease (1926–32)
      (pp. 173-207)

      Laboratory manipulation of the virulence of pathogenic microbes had been a central component of the birth and life of Pastorian microbiology. Pasteur and his disciples had fashioned their assorted vaccines by exposing microbes to a variety of changed environmental conditions—heat, cold, air, and so on. They had also found that passage through animal hosts tended, eventually, to restore such artificially diminished virulence.¹ Given this practical focus on microbial malleability (along with other cultural and certainly personal factors), it is unsurprising that Pasteur did not himself come up with a formula for a strict, “one microbe produces one disease” specificity....

    • 7 Mosaics of Power: Confronting Paris (1931–34)
      (pp. 208-236)

      At the same time that Nicolle was being invited to Mexico to provide his expertise on typhus to the growing international discussion on the disease’s contested identity, he was being summoned to return to Paris. The summons was, in part, a sign that Paris was finally giving Nicolle the acclaim he had long sought. Yet, the call came not from theMaison mère, but from the Collège de France. Moreover, the Collège wanted him for the Chair of Experimental Medicine.¹ The position, established a century earlier by François Magendie, had been made still more famous by his student and successor,...

  12. Part Five Denouement

    • 8 At Home with My Shadows: Patrie de Nomade
      (pp. 239-254)

      In 1934, Nicolle published the final book in his biological/philosophical trilogy.La Nature: Conception et Morale Biologique[Nature] opens with the author’s personal invitation to the reader to accompany him in his narrative explorations. More specifically, he summons the reader to join him at a window, looking out over “nature”: “We approach the window. I open it. Reader, you lean on the sill next to me.”¹ Outside, the garden is coming to life; “beyond it, the sea gently stirs up its pebbles.” Inspired by the scene, Nicolle proclaims, “ ‘Nature is beautiful.’ You add, ‘She is caring [aimant].’ ” Nicolle...

  13. Appendix A Vaccines and Analyses at the Pasteur Institute of Tunis
    (pp. 255-256)
  14. Appendix B Personnel at the Pasteur Institute of Tunis, 1903–35
    (pp. 257-258)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 259-346)
  16. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. 347-350)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 351-372)
  18. Index
    (pp. 373-384)