Review (Guest): Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and Cultures of Planning in Asia

5 Star, Culture, Research, Economics, Environment (Problems), Health, Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Robert Peckham

Book Description

April 2, 2013

Imperial Contagions argues that there was no straightforward shift from older, enclavist models of colonial medicine to a newer emphasis on prevention and treatment of disease among indigenous populations as well as European residents. It shows that colonial medicine was not at all homogeneous “on the ground” but was riven with tensions and contradictions. Indigenous elites contested and appropriated Western medical knowledge and practices for their own purposes. Colonial policies contained contradictory and cross-cutting impulses. This book challenges assumptions that colonial regimes were uniformly able to regulate indigenous bodies and that colonial medicine served as a “tool of empire.”


Europeans in Asia developed powerful anxieties about contagion and made many plans to keep it at a safe distance. Commercial ventures depended on mobility of people and goods, yet for the personal safety of their members, the Europeans in Asia wished to stabilize and control the spaces they inhabited and the behaviors of those around them. By exploring the tensions and contradictions that arose from these efforts to stay safe, the authors — among the best authorities now writing — offer not only fascinating accounts of historical events but fresh views of the processes often termed colonial or imperial.

(Harold J. Cook, author of Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age )
This substantial collection greatly enriches our understanding of medicine, disease, and policy in colonial Asia. The contributors, from a range of disciplines, grapple fruitfully with questions surrounding medical space and the shift from enclavism to public health. In doing so, they make important theoretical and empirical contributions to medical and imperial history.

(David Arnold, author of Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India )

About the Author

Robert Peckham is codirector of the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine and an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong.

David M. Pomfret is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong.