Exploding Mosquito Larvae and Jumping Lab Rats

I’m often tempted, when researching the history of science, to focus on experiments that seem, today, to have been odd or unusual. This is not a helpful approach. It can belittle the scientific understandings of the past and reinforce the simplistic story that ideas inexorably improve over time. Despite this, recently I found myself giving…

The Health of the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia

I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in a short trip to Cambodia before the teaching term begins in earnest. I was attending the sixth History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA) conference, that this year was hosted in the tranquil surroundings of the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. This was my first time…

Animals in the Asylum

Last week I presented a paper as part of a panel on the history of lunatic asylums at the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies’ annual conference, hosted by the University of Vienna. It was the first time that I had returned to the subject of colonial psychiatry since I completed the research for my…

Colonial Canicide, Cruel to be Kind?

One of the ways in which British colonizers sought to distinguish themselves from the colonized populations that they ruled over, and to justify that rule, was through claiming that they treated animals more humanely than the ‘natives’. In Burma this claim was also made, but it was not always straight-forward. Buddhism was viewed by imperial…

Medical and Imperial Utopias

When I was last in Yangon I bought a copy of Colonel M. L. Treston’s Health Notes Medical and Sanitary. It was printed by the Government of Burma and was intended to advise future British officials. Although not dated, since Treston is described as the Inspector-General of Civil Hospitals, a post that he took up…

Baden-Powell in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

Sherlock Hare was a British barrister working in colonial Rangoon until he was diagnosed as a criminal lunatic in 1891. He was then deported to England where, after briefly escaping, he was confined in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for the remainder of his life. I have written about him in more detail in an article,…

Stomaching the Truth

I’ve recently been doing some research for an article I’m writing about the career of a judge in the Indian Civil Service at the end of the nineteenth century called Aubray Percival Pennell. He was dramatically kicked out of the Service in 1901 after a career of publicly criticizing the Government of India in his judgments…

Plague and (Amateur) Photography in Colonial Burma

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about some official photographs taken of British measures to combat the plague in Burma taken during 1906. These images showed British doctors administering vaccinations and checking patients’ symptoms. What they omitted were the more coercive and invasive aspects of anti-plague measures, such as the dismantling and disinfecting…

Plague and Photography in Colonial Burma

I recently stumbled across some fascinating photographs of colonial measures taken to arrest the spread of bubonic plague in Mandalay in 1906 through the online archive of medical history images available through the Wellcome Trust, London. These photographs show Burmese residents apparently willingly submitting themselves to British medicine. In the top photo a group are…

Burma’s Anti-Colonial Imperialist

No, not George Orwell. And no, (for those more familiar with Southeast Asian history) not John Furnivall. There was another more trenchant and less ambiguous critic of British imperialism in the interwar years: Bernard Houghton. Having served in the Burma branch of the Indian Civil Service from 1886 until his retirement in 1912, he began…