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Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines, and: The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health, and Racial Destiny in Australia (review)

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 48, Number 4, October 2007
pp. 866-868 | 10.1353/tech.2007.0152

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Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines. By Warwick Anderson. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006. Pp ix+355. $23.95.
The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health, and Racial Destiny in Australia.. By Warwick Anderson. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006. Pp ix+390. $23.95.

In 1974, when my family moved from North America to West Africa, my classmates assured me that, in African sunshine, I would soon develop black skin and curly hair. At a personal level, therefore, at least one intellectual strand running through Warwick Anderson's two explorations of race and place, imperial politics, and colonial medicine was instantly recognizable: the vision of the tropics as fundamentally, biologically, transformative. This preconception profoundly shaped European and American medical practices in the tropics until the late nineteenth century and beyond, so perhaps its persistence in 1970s America is to be expected. But much of the history of colonial (and tropical) medicine has been written about European colonies in Africa and India; only latterly have scholars begun to explore these disciplines across a wider range of locales, cultures, and indeed time frames.

Both of Anderson's volumes seek to extend scholarship in these directions. Colonial Pathologies looks at colonial and tropical medicine from the less familiar vantage point of an American colony in Southeast Asia, while The Cultivation of Whiteness explores them as they flourished in the self-consciously (if not homogeneously) "white" settler colony of Australia. In opening up these new vistas, Anderson has certainly shown that historical scholarship can have effects beyond its disciplinary borders: in 2002, his research [End Page 866] for The Cultivation of Whiteness prompted Adelaide University to apologize for its part in some of the racial research he documents. He also provides wonderful material for comparative and global historians of medicine and empire.

One challenge for historians traveling on disciplinarily less-trodden paths is the need to introduce not just their specific case studies, actors, or questions, but indeed their entire milieu. Although Anderson is not the first historian of medicine to describe either the Philippines or Australia, he certainly could not assume familiarity with either. In The Cultivation of Whiteness, perhaps the more readable of the two volumes, he addresses this need deftly through taking a long view: readers become familiar with the distinctive characteristics of Australia's history as a white settler colony "with a black heart" by moving through a sensitive and intriguing account of the colonization process from 1788 to the 1940s, read through a medical lens. Anderson takes a similar approach in Colonial Pathologies, though it is slightly less effective because the history is compressed into the brief span between 1898 and the 1930s (and perhaps also because he assumes considerably more familiarity with United States history than with Australian history).

Fortunately, many of the themes addressed in the two volumes will be familiar to Anderson's readership: the intertwining of race and medicine, the racialization and gendering of the tropics and tropical populations, colonies as "laboratories" for medicine and public health, disease "seed" and disease "soil," colonial mimesis, and medicine's role in forming identity and citizenship in colonial states. In each book, Anderson pays unusually close attention to the "exoneration" of the tropical environment, and its replacement as a source of pathology by the tropical "native." And both volumes shine in offering challenging and distinctive perspectives on these crucial issues. Anderson's determination to carve out a different intellectual space within these areas is also rewarding—he focuses on how medical theories and strategies worked on the ground, at the level of practice rather than policy.

Overall, Colonial Pathologies paints a vivid picture of empire- and nation-building by the United States during the Progressive Era, and it illuminates the part played by medicine in America's internal and external drives to expand and to assimilate annexed indigenous populations. Anderson ably explores and unpacks the ideals of Progressive public health in the tropics, particularly in his study of the model leper colony on Culion and its apprentice citizens. Likewise, his chapter on "Excremental Colonialism" is a valuable addition to the literature examining the physical spaces...