Imperial Contagions

9-11 December 2009

An international workshop entitled 'Imperial Contagions: Medicine and Cultures of Planning in Asia, 1880-1949' took place between 9-11 December 2009 as part of the Centre's ongoing Contagions research theme.seminar poster

(Sponsored by the Louis Cha Fund, the Faculty of Arts (HKU) under the China-West Studies Research Theme Initiative and the History Endowment Fund)

Participants at the forefront of research in the history of medicine, comparative urban planning, cultural geography and Asian history examined the ways in which anxieties (real and imagined) about 'contagion' framed relations between East and West. An important focus of the meeting was on how health and sickness, as conceptual models, were materialized in imperial architecture and planning practices.

Participants presented significant new primary material and articulated innovative theoretical approaches to medical and urban histories, governmentalities and space.

Imperial Contagions investigated the relationship between infectious disease, colonial medicine and urban space, comprising but not limited to the following five overarching themes:

  • how Western imperial powers, notably (but not exclusively) Britain and France, sought to extend their influence in Asia through the management of civic culture

  • how scientific medical knowledge, particularly parasitology and pathogenic theories developed in Europe in the 1860s and 1870s, were mobilized in the planning of colonial spaces

  • how emergent theories of public health, which emphasized sanitation, segregation and control, helped to shape urban forms

  • how Asia-West differences were played out and contested in specific sites and locales

  • the ways in which a 'scientific' medical discourse that stressed the etiology of infectious disease and sought to identify causative agents merged with embedded socio-cultural ideas of 'otherness' as sources of potential contamination