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Malarial Subjects
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Malaria was considered one of the most widespread disease-causing entities in the nineteenth century. It was associated with a variety of frailties far beyond fevers, ranging from idiocy to impotence. And yet, it was not a self-contained category. The reconsolidation of malaria as a diagnostic category during this period happened within a wider context in which cinchona plants and their most valuable extract, quinine, were reinforced as objects of natural knowledge and social control. In India, the exigencies and apparatuses of British imperial rule occasioned the close interactions between these histories. In the process, British imperial rule became entangled with a network of nonhumans that included, apart from cinchona plants and the drug quinine, a range of objects described as malarial, as well as mosquitoes. Malarial Subjects explores this history of the co-constitution of a cure and disease, of British colonial rule and nonhumans, and of science, medicine and empire. This title is also available as Open Access.


'Just when we thought there was nothing more to say about medicine and colonialism, Rohan Deb Roy opens up a completely new conversation, reorienting us. In Malarial Subjects, the postcolonial history of medicine comes face to face with posthuman science studies, and a wonderfully illuminating interchange ensues, evoking entanglements of humans, parasites, mosquitoes, cinchona plants, and quinine. Thus we learn how cinchona plants could cultivate their own impossibly modern colonial space; and mosquitoes might weave imperial nets, capturing colonisers and the colonised within them.'

Warwick Anderson - University of Sydney

'Drawing on recent scholarship in science studies, Rohan Deb Roy has produced a rich and fascinating history of the imbrication of empire and science. The cinchona plant, the diagnostic category called malaria, the Burdwan fever epidemic and the quinine drug, all assembled through the global circuits of capital, come together in the book to tell a story of how human knowledge shapes and is shaped by nonhuman materiality.'

Partha Chatterjee - Columbia University, New York and Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

'In a rich and innovative study, Rohan Deb Roy engages multiple layers of imperial and vernacular knowledge and enfolds the experience of British India into a wide epistemology of empire and science. He reveals how the ‘mystery’ of malaria was created and then dispelled, and how an apparently natural category of disease was constructed through triangulation between epidemic disease, therapeutic substance and insect agency. Malarial Subjects travels beyond existing scholarship to formulate a new and subtle understanding not only of one of the most formidable diseases of the imperial epoch but also of how disease in general is made.'

David Arnold - University of Warwick

'In this deeply researched and nuanced study, Rohan Deb Roy shows how quinine and malaria were intertwined with a vast and complex network of commerce and colonialism, from the cinchona trees of Peru to the drug companies of London to the colonial outposts of the British empire. He offers a new and illuminating model for the history of global medicine, in which diseases like malaria are defined by their therapies and therapies are defined by their subjects, and all are defined by the geography of empire.'

Lorraine Daston - Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

'Elegantly written and theoretically ambitious, Malarial Subjects is grounded in an extraordinarily careful and creative exploration of a new type of colonial archive. In bringing malaria and quinine to fascinating life through unexpected histories of practice and ideology, Rohan Deb Roy locates them as moving parts within complexly dynamic formations, demonstrating both the generative force of things and their subjection and manipulation, as well as their active if murky role in the furtherance of empire.'

Hugh Raffles - The New School for Social Research, New York

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