Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean World

Network Node: 

A small report on the conference hosted by the Indian Ocean World Centre at McGill University with McGill Node.
Prepared by Anna Winterbottom, Post-Doctoral Fellow at IOWC.

Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean World
April 26-27, 2013
McGill University

This international conference aimed to interrogate the concept of the Indian Ocean as a ‘world’ using the exchange of healing practices, medical goods, texts, instruments and ideas as a lens through which to examine how far the region may be regarded as a cultural entity.

Papers were drawn from a diverse set of disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, and area studies as well as the history of medicine and science and covered periods from the medieval to the present day. While many of the papers focused on one particular region, they worked together to situate local healing practices in a regional context, noting the dialogic nature of exchanges, appropriation, continuities and new introductions in terms of medicine.

Particular themes which emerged were: methods of explaining disease in the Indian Ocean World, from humoral theory and environmental explanations of disease to theories of contagion; exchanges of medical knowledge in the region, from the material culture of healing on the medieval ‘maritime silk road’ to the circulation of people and ideas between Europe, Goa and Eastern Africa during the nineteenth century; The politicisation of disease, from explorations of the monetary value of collections of medicinal plants to the establishment of Russian hospitals in Ethiopia; public health, from campaigns to eradicate hookworm to the particular character of lunatic asylums in colonial South Asia; and the concern of colonial regimes to maintain the bodies of their workers, from the Dutch East Indies to the Comoros Islands.