Transcript of medical history of British India video

Science and technology

Transcript of Medical History of British India Digitisation Manager Francine Millard's filmed talk at the National Library of Scotland.

Hi, I'm Francine Millard, I'm the Digitisation Manager for the Medical History of British India project. The Medical history of British India website contains nearly 360 government medical reports from around 1860 to 1950.

Users can search and browse rare documents which show how the British used colonial medicine to support the health of their own personnel and their families and how such medicine affected the local population.

So far, the website contains five themed collections. The Disease collection shows how plague, leprosy, cholera and malaria were understood and managed in a tropical environment.

Colonial actions upon the local population such as sanitary measures and quarantine often invaded Indian culture and encroached on freedom. The reports frequently show that western medicine was viewed by the British as superior to traditional Indian medicine, particularly after the discovery that microbes caused disease.

Users can see the influence of [Edward] Jenner, [Louis] Pasteur and [Robert] Koch in the growth in medical knowledge and also assess how colonial medicine in turn added to this knowledge.

The Institutions collection reveals the efforts the British made to maintain the health of the military whilst giving a detailed account of what life was like as a soldier at the time of the Raj. This may interest the casual reader and genealogist. Historians can also examine the role of colonial medicine as a tool of power.

Indian Medical Service doctors such as Ronald Ross, D D Cunningham and Griffith Evans, worked in bacteriological laboratories to find rational, scientific explanations for disease and solutions to combat it.

The reports also show how western medicine spread into the local population through the training of native medical students and vaccination programmes.

The Drugs collection features the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, which is an extensive survey on hemp drugs and cannabis use from 1893-94. This highly detailed report reveals the moral and physical effects of hemp drugs and British attitudes to addiction and taxation.

This collection also has reports on the safety of chloroform anaesthesia and the cultivation of cinchonas, a plant used to relieve the symptoms of malaria.

The Veterinary Medicine collection illustrates how the British used animals such as horses, cattle, elephants and camels for transport, power and breeding. Diseases such as surra and rinderpest were studied in the field and in the lab. Colonial staff used the techniques to lessen the effects of disease on colonial efficiency.

Civil Veterinary Department reports reveal methods and motivations for disease control and the shift from Western to Indian supervision.

The Mental Health collection offers users the chance to reconstruct life in colonial lunatic asylums and track the changes in the labelling and treatment of mental illness. The Indian asylum system adopted the 'moral treatment' regime which became popular from the 1860s in Britain and Europe.

Occupation, diet and a regular routine managed both European and Indian patients until the 1930s when new drug treatments were increasingly used.

Users can explore the attitudes of the British to both madness and their subjects at a time when the asylum and understanding of mental health were both developing.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the medical history of British India website is available free without having to register or log on.

Users can search and browse by keyword or by facets such as people, places, year and subject. The option of searching book content can find names of people or more obscure diseases. Transcriptions of pages are available which can be copied and pasted, together with jpegs and PDFs which can be downloaded. Users can share and bookmark pages via social networking sites.

During the last decade there has been a lively interest in colonial medicine. Containing detailed descriptions, maps, charts, extensive tables and photographs this online resource is aimed at medical, social, military and colonial historians, historians of South Asia and also genealogists.

I'm thrilled to say that this is not the end. Reports on the implementation of smallpox vaccination in India will be added early in 2013.


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