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Mapping the Victorian Social Body

Pamela K. Gilbert

Publication Year: 2004

The cholera epidemics that plagued London in the nineteenth century were a turning point in the science of epidemiology and public health, and the use of maps to pinpoint the source of the disease initiated an explosion of medical and social mapping not only in London but throughout the British Empire as well. Mapping the Victorian Social Body explores the impact of such maps on Victorian and, ultimately, present-day perceptions of space. Tracing the development of cholera mapping from the early sanitary period to the later “medical” period of which John Snow’s work was a key example, the book explores how maps of cholera outbreaks, residents’ responses to those maps, and the novels of Charles Dickens, who drew heavily on this material, contributed to an emerging vision of London as a metropolis. The book then turns to India, the metropole’s colonial other and the perceived source of the disease. In India, the book argues, imperial politics took cholera mapping in a wholly different direction and contributed to Britons’ perceptions of Indian space as quite different from that of home. The book concludes by tracing the persistence of Victorian themes in current discourse, particularly in terms of the identification of large cities with cancerous growth and of Africa with AIDS.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century


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Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xx

IN 1844, WHEN DICKENS’S young architect Martin Chuzzlewit visits America, he invests in Eden: “a most important place” which he knows only through a map, or, more precisely a plan. The plan shows “A flourishing city....An architectural city, too! There were banks, churches, cathedrals, market-places, factories, hotels, stores, mansions, wharves; an exchange, a theatre; public...

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pp. xxi-xxii

AS IS USUAL WITH ANY PROJECT, I owe thanks to too many people to count.Institutions first: I must mention the generous assistance and friendly atmosphere of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, and especially Sally Bragg, who makes it all function smoothly. Thanks too to the Wellcome Library, London. The ever-reliable British Library, where I have had many...

PART I: Introductory

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p. 1

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1. Mapping and Social Space in Nineteenth-Century England

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pp. 3-23

NINETEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND saw a growing concern with what came to be defined as social problems—poverty, crime, and what would finally be termed “public health” issues. Much of this has been correctly attributed to urbanization and industrialization, and the urban is certainly central in conceptions of the social body in this period, particularly London. More...

PART II: Mapping Disease in the Metropole

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p. 25

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2. Visible at a Glance: English Sanitary and Medical Maps

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pp. 27-54

AS FOUCAULT, DONZELOT, POOVEY and others have suggested, the nineteenth century was obsessed with visibility. The city, in particular, became subject to a scrutiny which was as much devoted to actively establishing transparency as it was to simply recording what was already present. Modes of knowing

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3. Invisible to the Naked Eye: John Snow

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pp. 55-79

PHYSICIAN BENJAMIN WARD RICHARDSON, describing public reaction to the St. James epidemic, remarks, “[S]uch a panic possibly never existed in London since the days of the great plague. People fled from their homes as from instant death, leaving behind them, in their haste, all that they valued most” (xxvi). John Snow’s analysis of this epidemic and recommendation to...

PART III: Narrating Metropolitan Space

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p. 81

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4. A Tale of Two Parishes: Place and Narrative in the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854

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pp. 83-107

WE HAVE SEEN SOMETHING of how Snow’s views were argued and contested in relation to sanitary and medical conceptions of space. But of course, these conceptions themselves did not operate in a vacuum. Snow’s arguments were consumed within a context of multiple perceptions and lived experiences of space, both by local residents of the area and others. This chapter will seek...

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5. Medical Mapping, the Thames,and the Body in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend

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pp. 109-137

IN THESE FIRST LINES of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, all of the iconic elements important to the novel are present: the degraded man, the pure girl, the Thames, and most importantly, filth: a dirty boat on a “filthy” river (44), with, as Dickens’s Mr. Mantalini would have described it, a “demd, damp, moist, unpleasant body” in tow. Although Dickens ostentatiously disregards...

PART IV: Mapping the Body of Empire

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p. 139

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6. India in the 1830s: Mapping from the Professional Periphery

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pp. 141-162

WE HAVE SEEN THAT the mapping of disease operated as part of an extensive spatialization of social knowledge which, in turn, was part of a reconceptualization of the space of the nation, the city, and the metropole. Dickens works hard to break down the geographic conception of otherness within England in favor of a potentially equally homogenous, equally civilized and malleable...

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7. India in the 1860s: Mapping Imperial Difference

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pp. 163-186

THE YEARS INTERVENING BETWEEN the early 1830s and the mid-1860s produced, relatively speaking, far fewer medical maps by British medics in India than were created at either end of the period. Mapping of India for military, ordinance, railway building, and drainage and irrigation purposes continued apace but, perhaps because of cholera’s endemicity, and because the epidemic...

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Afterword: Still Visible Today

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pp. 187-204

BY THE END OF THE CENTURY, medical mapping was fully integrated into public health discourse and was increasingly standardized. The confusion and multiplicity that reigned earlier dissipated, and with it, the potential for dramatic new changes in the public imagination of community. However, the earlier impact of such mapping lingered in other forms; perhaps its influence...


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pp. 205-222

Works Cited

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pp. 223-236


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pp. 237-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485330
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460252
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460258

Page Count: 267
Illustrations: 22 maps, 7 figures
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Series Editor Byline: Pamela K. Gilbert See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 57663842
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mapping the Victorian Social Body

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cartography -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century -- Maps.
  • Cholera -- India -- History -- 19th century -- Maps.
  • AIDS (Disease) -- Africa -- Maps.
  • Medical geography -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century -- Maps.
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