Kristin HusseyNov 11, 2021
Imperial Bodies in London
Empire, Mobility, and the Making of British Medicine, 1880-1914
University of Pittsburgh Press 2021
With the opening of the Suez Canal, larger and faster steamships, plus dockside engineering to accommodate them – time shrunk in the British Empire. The movement of bodies between the U.K and colonial outposts quickened. In Kristen D. Hussey’s Imperial Bodies in London: Empire, Mobility, and the Making of British Medicine, 1880-1914 (U Pittsburgh Press, 2021), readers are introduced to how such mobility transformed British conceptions of health and illness and the medical practices to heal. A scramble for “imperial bodies” occurred as medical professionals sought to cure the Empire’s “tropical” diseases.
Hussey’s intense archival work delivers several case studies in British medicine that brings together various historical narratives. Merging spatial theories to the history of medicine, for example, Hussey communicates well the reciprocal nature of Empire, movement, and diseased bodies. London loomed large as a place of recuperation, a place to get well, and the best that medicine had to offer. Imperial Bodies in London reads as if a microhistory, but never deviates from connecting to larger, much broader sweep of history. The story of how European men and women – administrators, soldiers, sailors, missionaries, doctors, servants, and families – returned home to recover or readjust from their imperial duties and thereby became specimens (in a sense) to advance medical knowledge is deftly handled by the author.
In this interview, discussed are ways in which British medical practitioners approached diseases affecting the liver, eyes, brain and blood of those that served the Empire. Many of their discoveries and practices were the foundations of modern medicine. The current Covid-19 pandemic makes this book not only timely, but a terrific read into the origins of modern medicine.
Joseph Krulder is a historian of Britain's long eighteenth-century: cultural, social, military, and economic.