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Malarial Subjects
Empire, Medicine and Nonhumans in British India, 1820–1909

$112.00 (C)

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Part of Science in History

  • Date Published: October 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107172364

$ 112.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Integrates the insights of science studies with the historiography of colonial medicine
    • Examines interactions between the histories of colonial governance, medical knowledge, pharmaceutical commerce and vernacular public cultures
    • A timely and highly original approach to the history of malaria in the nineteenth century
    • This title is also available as Open Access
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    • Runner-up, 2018 John Pickstone Prize, British Society for the History of Science

    Reviews & endorsements

    '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

    ‘An excellent book that covers the early history of malaria in British India, explaining how quinine became its chief remedy … Roy lays out the ways in which malaria was construed within a network of human and nonhuman agencies … It’s a story of how trees, insects, people, physical structures, and land cause malaria to come about … Roy turns to the cultural, political, and environmental ways in which malaria was consolidated as an object of scientific knowledge … Central to his argument is quinine … Using quinine as a lens, Roy tells a history of British India …It is unusually well researched…The strength of this book lies in its … uncovering of material that few historians have looked at.’ Peder Anker, The American Historical Review

    'Rohan Deb Roy rejects the retrospective frames of malaria to approach it through fresh intellectual, cultural and political lenses. He has approached the ‘making and persistence of malaria as an enduring diagnostic category’ through the world of plants, drugs and vectors. His focus is on the ‘long nineteenth century’, instead of the twentieth, which he observes has been better served by historians. The narrative of the book is woven around three distinct themes: the epidemiology of malaria, questions of purity and marketing of cinchona and quinine, and the identification of the mosquito vector … Due to its concurrent focus on plants, drugs, epidemics and vectors, the book poses important challenges to the history of science and medicine … These challenges are in fact a reflection of the ambitious nature of the book. It is well researched and the text is highly readable and it benefits from excellent images, particularly of mosquitoes and malaria control programmes. It also admirably opens up possibilities for new histories of disease biospheres.' Pratik Chakrabati, Social History of Medicine

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2017
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107172364
    • length: 346 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 158 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • contains: 40 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: side-effects of empire
    1. 'Fairest of Peruvian maids': planting cinchonas in British India
    2. 'An imponderable poison': shifting geographies of a diagnostic category
    3. 'A cinchona disease': making Burdwan fever
    4. 'Beating about the bush': manufacturing quinine in a colonial factory
    5. Of 'losses gladly borne': feeding quinine, warring mosquitoes

  • Author

    Rohan Deb Roy, University of Reading
    Rohan Deb Roy is Lecturer in South Asian History at the University of Reading. He received his Ph.D. from University College London, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, at the University of Cambridge, and at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He has been a Barnard-Columbia Weiss International Visiting Scholar in the History of Science.


    • Runner-up, 2018 John Pickstone Prize, British Society for the History of Science

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