Parasitic diseases infected many who settled in Europe’s tropical possessions during the nineteenth century. Attendant casualty rates created major difficulties for the British Empire. The discovery of the etiology and pathology of tropical diseases (such as elephantiasis and malaria) made possible modern tropical medicine, a boon for the British colonial project. During this process, the Scottish physician Sir Patrick Manson (1844–1922) discovered that mosquitoes were the intermediate hosts of the human filarial parasite (Wuchereria bancrofti) and proposed the mosquito-malaria theory, which played a crucial role in developing the insect-vector concept. He made other crucial contributions to the discipline and was hailed as “the father of tropical medicine.” Working from unpublished letters, diaries, and manuscripts, Shang-Jen Li thoroughly describes and analyzes Manson’s clinical and research activities, applying the perspectives of natural history, the history of the life sciences, and colonial history.
Chapter 1 describes Manson’s early life and his medical education. At the time, Scotland’s medical research was shifting from natural theology to philosophical natural history. Li analyzes the impact on medical work of natural theology’s key concept of “perfect adaptation,” showing that the combination of new anatomical reasoning and microscopes with improved lenses gave Manson’s parasitology research an advantage. Chapter 2 focuses on Manson’s career as a medical officer in the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service; he served in Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) and Xiamen (Amoy) from 1866 to 1875. While introducing important reforms to Chinese missionary hospitals, he made many observations on endemic diseases and how they related to climate, environment, and hygiene.
Chapter 3 shows how Manson connected what was known about the filarial parasite and elephantiasis to the cases he was seeing of malaria. He applied the methods of comparative pathology and the concepts of perfect adaption and the harmony of [End Page 371] nature, proposing the mosquito as the intermediate host of the filarial parasite. Li also explores Manson’s expertise in collecting research materials, taking samples, making slides, and operating microscopes. Chapter 4 reveals how the concept of the sexual division of labor in reproductive biology shaped Manson’s understanding of filariasis, then dwells on another division of labor, that between frail European mothers and the Chinese nurses who looked after newborn European children. This inspired Manson to use the word nurse to describe the roles of mosquitoes in the filarial reproduction process.
Chapter 5 begins with a discussion of the medical practice Manson set up—first in Hong Kong, then in London—after he retired from the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service in 1883. It was during this period that he designed the mosquito-malaria chart, combining it with a temperature chart, tools that did much for the identification of research subjects. Chapter 6 focuses on Manson’s collaboration with the British medical officer Ronald Ross in British India, a fine example of research communication extending from the academic center (Manson was in London) to the colonial periphery. Chapter 7 investigates how Manson developed friendships with key medical figures and journal editors, participated in academic politics, and finally developed tropical medicine into a discipline. The book closes with an account of the end of Manson’s professional relationship with Ross.
The most fascinating aspect of this book is the author’s application of French anthropologist Marcel Mauss’s concept of gift exchange to the partnership Manson and Ross formed to verify the mosquito-malaria theory. The author points out that such exchanges were the key feature of modern science during the nineteenth century. These collaborative research relationships typically involved a prestigious researcher like Manson at the imperial center, and a scholar at an early stage in his career, like Ross, in a peripheral colonial area. The latter usually conducted fieldwork, collecting specimens and developing processing and operational techniques, while the former was in charge of theory construction and the identification, classification, and standardization of materials. The locus of the prestigious scholar was called the center of...