The Politics of Medical Topography

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Harriet Deacon, “The Politics of Medical Topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century,” 279-297, in Pathologies of Travel eds. R. Wrigley and G. Revill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000).

Deacon focuses primarily upon the imperial, moral, and economic reasons that Cape Town faded as an important health resort spot in the 19th century. It was longer on an important trade route and was unable to compete with Mediterranean or, more significantly, European health resorts in society and status.

I didn’t find a whole lot useful here, mostly because the focus was not on the role that science played in the Cape’s downfall (and attempts to remain relevant). Deacon spends a lot of time fleshing out the moral implications that the developing city with few aristocratic or other high-ranking imperial officials seemed to have for some of those who commented on it. While its climate was originally held to be quite healthful, the discourse on climate and its deterministic role in the making of the individual increasingly cast doubt onto the location’s healthfulness. Deacon argues that this change was one explained better by imperialistic and economic motives than medical or scientific ones.

The Last Resort

Uncategorized

Vladimir Jankovic, “The Last Resort: A British Perspective on the Medical South, 1815-1870,” Journal of Intercultural Studies 27, no. 3 (2006): 271-298.

In this piece on British health travel to the Mediterranean, Jankovic aims to focus on the “…ways in which the medical reasoning and disease etiology impinged on the choice of resorts and regimens, and how such choice meshed with the broad understanding of the region based not only on the geographical and medical documents but also on its changing cultural stereotypes.” (272) He argues that medical opinion explained some aspects of health travel, but not all, as evidenced by the rapidly changing resort hotspots. Though Jankovic asserts that the “career of British climatotherapy… often drew upon the lay rather than scientific consensus and… often passed it verdicts in accordance to the Victorian environmental mores rather than observations, mortality tables or climatological statistics…,” he acknowledges the vital role that the “garb of impartiality and… use of scientific jargon…” played in legitimizing and differentiating different resorts. (272-73)

Modern Airs, Waters, Places

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

The Bulletin of the History of Medicine put out a special issue in the winter of 2012 that focused on the resilience and evolution of the “airs, waters, places tradition.” (It was edited by Alison Bashford and Sarah Tracey — the latter is on my MA committee!!!)

Though the contributors are for the most part concerned with the 20th century, the introduction to the issue contains some historiographical information about studies on climate that are incredibly helpful for getting my feet wet.

First off, it looks like historians studying climatology have been arguing for some time that the traditional signposts of modern medicine — germ theory and bacteriology — did not alter the way that laypeople, physicians, or scientists understood wellness and disease. Rather, “…microorganisms continued to be understood in relation to an environmentally shaped human physiology…[and]…[m]edical men continued to gather and assess meteorological data in minute detail long after microorganisms were known to be necessary and sufficient to cause disease.” (504)

Inventing Caribbean Climates

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Mark Carey, “Inventing Caribbean Climates: How Science, Medicine and Tourism Changed Tropical Weather from Deadly to Healthy,” Osiris 26, no. 1 (2011): 129-141.

In this piece, Carey traces changing European and North American perceptions of Caribbean climates from 1750-1950. He argues that these understandings were not shaped only by the climactic science; rather, they were constructed around multiple considerations, including “…environmental conditions, knowledge systems, social relations, politics, and economics.” (129) Carey understands these ideas, then, to be culturally constructed and argues, in line with most recent studies on climate, for the cultural construction of climate.

Orientalism

Notes

Foundation of post-colonial studies; methodology is post-structuralist.

Discussion Questions:

Let’s start where we left off last week — would you say that what Said has written is a cultural history?

What sorts of sources does he use to get at the culture of Orientalism, and how does he link the culture to the psychological, ideological, and tangible effects he’s arguing it resulted in?

Science (geographical surveys, linguistic treatises), politics (Napoleon’s correspondence), popular culture (literature [travel, novels], art [paintings],

There’s one aspect of this book that I find particularly important for historians of science to pay attention to, and it’s something Aparna asked us to look out for this week. Said raises a very pertinent question about how we should be writing history; in this case, he’s talking in particular about histories of “the Other.”

Have you seen the kind of discourse Said describes in the primary or secondary sources you consult when your actors or authors are writing about “the Other?”

How can one study other cultures and people from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective? (24)

“Academic mindfulness”

Interdisciplinarianism

How would you answer this question in the context of the history of science, or even more importantly, within the context of your own research?

It seems incredibly important who is assigned the role of “actor” and who is viewed in terms of their “reactions.” Who is changing and who is changed.

Another issue, and one that we’ve discussed at length in other courses but something I think Said deals with well, is the pitfalls of specialized disciplinarity. As historians, in our training, we are expected to read all the “great works” our forebears have composed in order to understand the acceptable methodologies and limits of our field. In a way, this distances us from the reality of the history we’re trying to comment upon, like it did for many intellectuals within the Orientalist community. Instead of looking at the Orient as it was, letting it speak for itself, these actors read what other men in their discipline had written about the Orient and took this as truth. (67)

As historians, should we be trained with such an emphasis on secondary source material? We’re joining a conversation, but we also are responsible for representing people of the past. How can we do so with so very little of their voices being heard? Where is the line between being a part of an intellectual community and making sure the subject of study for which the community has been founded is the centerpiece of the conversation?

What is science’s role in the construction of cultural domination of the West over the East? In the formation of the “Orient”?

What is the relationship between knowledge and power in Said’s narrative?

Does knowledge have to be based in reality for it to be powerful?

Is essentialist knowledge, taking something specific and applying it in a general manner, especially prone to produce problems of difference and inequality?

Criticism:

Why not focus on more European-dominated colonial examples, like the British in India or the Russians in Asia?

DON’T LEAVE OUT THE GERMANS

This is anti-western

Made “Orientalism” into a bad word, condemning all those who would have proudly identified as such before the book was written.

“Said had constructed a binary-opposite representation, a fictional European stereotype that would counter-weigh the Oriental stereotype. Being European is the only common trait among such a temporally and stylistically disparate group of literary Orientalists.” Ibn Warraq, O.P. Kejariwal

Notes from Class:

Reproducing Empire, Laura Briggs

Early 20th century history of eugenics in Puerto Rico

Decolonizing Methodologies

The scholarship that we read is so heavily inundated with empire we don’t even see it.

You need to read Marx to understand this stuff (especially the violence aspects).

Oklahoma as a postcolonial space

Learning how to inhabit the space of the people we study

Any action in a colonized space is viewed as a reaction to the colonizers (by the colonized and the colonizers).

It’s not taking away colonial agency, it’s taking away their individuality.

Colonized cannot go back.

Culture must change to accommodate colonizers. It must change again to unify against colonizers. And it changes again after the colonizers are gone.

Engineers of Happyland

Summaries & Reviews

Engineers of Happyland, Rudolf Mrázek

         Rudolf Mrázek’s work, clothed in the language of a history of technology, was in fact not a history of technology at all. Instead, Mrázek artfully uses technology to discuss his real interest — nationalism and modernity in the colonial setting. Through the lenses of the ways that people make and do things, and the engineers who help make those decisions, the author is able to capture conceptions and expositions of nationalism, both Dutch and Indonesian. Mrázek’s definition of “technology” is quite broad in this book, including not only the more obvious examples — trains, telephones, and radios — but also cultural technologies like clothing and language. This wide definition is more conducive to an intimate study of the rapidly changing of national identities the people of the Indies underwent in the tumultuous time period Engineers of Happylimaand covers.

This wider definition of technology lends itself to a similarly broad definition of “engineer.” Mrázek’s engineers are engineers in the sense that they are well versed in the technical, and they use this knowledge and the technologies it concerns to create new ways of making and doing. They are not designers of traditional technologies like televisions and computers, however, but focus their energies on engineering society and culture. They are cultural and political leaders, speaking to and promoting what they perceived would lead the Indies in the direction of their particular modern imaginary. Mrs. J. M. T. Catenius was one such engineer, as a writer of a manners and fashion guide; she gave advice on what was culturally and socially acceptable in clothing and manners, thus engineering an aspect of society. Mrázek’s other engineers included novelists, politicians, and other leaders whose ideas about progress and modernity were followed by constituents of the Indies. They often lead others with an eye to modernity, or what they conceived of as a better way to live; shedding light on what was dark, trading ambiguity for certainty and curves for straight lines, humans for machines. These people played important roles in determining how technologies would be used and what sorts of worlds they would create.

A theme of particular importance was that of space between the Dutch and the natives. Whatever technologies the Dutch introduced in an attempt to create a New Holland abroad, a glass house as Mrázek would say, the natives continued to incorporate their own visions of modernity into them, distorting and closing the space between Dutch and native modernity. This harks back to last week and Barak’s work, which also dealt with how colonized populations used the very technology deployed to control or alter them to instead birth a new vision for themselves. Regardless of how the colonizers would have it, the Indies was not the Netherlands, and the natives were not Dutch. What to do with the space in between?

Social and cultural technologies, because they often by definition reside in the communal, proved particular points of contention for the colonizer and the colonized, and thus the space in between them. Roads and railways both required native and colonial bodies to share the same physical space, and both parties brought with them into that space the cultural practices and experiences that defined their origins. Dutch citizens would complain when native grobak carts slowed their progress on the roads; “if you can only teach him… to decently keep to the left side of the road as I am passing by on my motorcycle,” one wrote. (23) The carts’ wheels were bad for the roads, others pointed out.

Equally important in this space, and of particular interest to me, was the perceived space between the bodies of the natives and the Dutch. The native body was viewed as more tolerant of heat in the discussion of air conditioning, and on more than one occasion, was associated with dirt, disease, and feces. An object of much concern with Dutch social engineers was that of the dirtying of the roads by native bodies; their feet brought dirt, and they were prone to defecating in the road. Their ill constructed carts, situated on off-centered axles, “rode over ‘the feces of men, horses, and buffaloes, and made them into dust,’” which was then blown into the homes and businesses that lined the road. The roads, like modern man, needed to be “healed,” H. F. Tillema, a pharmacist and social commentator wrote. In a later work published by the same man, images of natives using their dirty latrines were juxtaposed with images of the clean, Dutch alternative. Natives were dirty and the Dutch were clean.

The native body, and the perceived unregulated Indies more generally, were also heavily associated with disease and contrasted with the “hygienic” practices of the Dutch. The dusty roads mentioned above were blamed for the high infant mortality of the Indies, along with “throat, nose, and lung disorders,” “Typhus,” “Pneumonia,” and other “pathogenic organisms.” The ideal modern road, by contrast, was to be “hard and antiseptic.” (25) Kampongs, low-class native living quarters, were often targeted as the source of epidemics and were contrasted with Dutch bungalows, situated above the city in healthful altitude, termed both “clean and healthy.” (69) The healthfulness of technologies for the European body were also a major selling point in debates about whether they should be implemented; in discussing the importance of air conditioning, the effect of heat on the “mental stamina” of white colonists was considered, and the exclusion of natives in the discussion implied that their bodies were fundamentally different than their native contemporaries’. In creating space between the Dutch and the natives, these commentators stressed the physiological, bodily differences inherent in the two populations. A harder, more concrete distinction can hardly be imagined.

This biological space was supplemented by other distance-inducing recommendations deployed by commentators. One such example is that found in the architecture of the period. In an attempt to maintain their glass houses in the Indies, the Dutch constructed houses higher and higher off of the ground. Even though these structures were ill-suited for the climate — heat rises — they helped to further delineate the Dutch from the native population. These attempts at creating space between colonizer and colonized gave the Dutch and their technologies a sense of “floating,” something that would increasingly contribute to growing dissonance in the eyes of the colonized, who did not use technologies to separate themselves from their colonizers. Instead, “they did not seem intent to build or dismantle any bridges, as they did not seem to be disturbed by any space in between.” (130) Their sense of modernity was not “dirtied” by Dutch interference.

The final three chapters focus on the way that the rising Indonesian nationalist movement deployed these same technologies — social, cultural, and technical — to create their own brand of modernity. Donning European-style clothes, Indonesian dandies encroached on Dutch space by adopting the regalia appropriate to their social standing, which was increasingly closer to that of the colonizer, as a new “substrata” of natives attained college degrees and were employed in office, telegraph, and railway station settings. Mrázek presents the question that most of the Dutch at the time were probably asking; “If a native became clothed as he or she wanted to, would he or she no longer be a native? Wherein, then, would the native belong?” As the colony became more fluid, less easy to categorize and define, these questions became more pressing.

My complaints about Engineers of Happyland are quite similar to the ones I voiced concerning On Barak’s On Time. The timeline is obscured, making some of Mrázek’s arguments harder to follow. His metaphorical language sometimes relied on an understanding of the timeline of Indonesian colonization and independence that I do not have. That being said, it is a fact that, along the lines of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, his strategy for understanding the complexity of the time period he covers is to “loosen time.”

He is also discussing a time of changing political boundaries, and he does very little in the vein of explaining what he means by “the Indies” and “Indonesia.” I realize, however, that the book’s intended audience is probably comprised of scholars already versed in this time period. That being said, if academics focusing on terrain normally excluded from scholarly narratives want their work to hold more importance in the discipline, would it not be advantageous to make such works more accessible to those unfamiliar with the territory?