For a literature that scarcely existed twenty-five years ago, the historiography of colonial science and medicine has flourished in the intervening period. As the field of postcolonial studies has expanded, so too has that of the role of science and medicine in the making of empire. Clinicians and experimenters saw the empire as a combination of proving ground and goldmine, a space in which they could safely test the boundaries of scientific practice while also harvesting new illnesses to document and treatments to ratify. From Saigon to Cayenne, from Manila to Havana, from Hong Kong to Bombay to Cape Town to Cairo, if European physicians and scientists set foot there, we have a monograph to document it. So what is there left for historians of colonial medicine to write? [End Page 450]
Plenty, as it turns out. Michael Osborne's The Emergence of Tropical Medicine in France is a meticulously researched book that breaks important historiographical ground. Osborne calls into question a number of common assumptions about medicine in the French empire, and produces as a result a smart book that will become an essential reference for historians of empire and European medicine. The book challenges the inherited wisdom about the place of Paris in medical education, the centrality of Algeria to the French empire, and, to an extent, the periodization of the new imperial history.
Perhaps because of the bloody struggle for its liberation and the sheer scale of European colonization there, Algeria has been for many historians the centerpiece of the French empire. Yet significant colonization in Algeria only began after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, making it a relatively late addition to the empire. Moreover, it was relatively unique among France's colonies, given the French army's critical role in both conquest and administration (although one could certainly add the neighboring Tunisian and Moroccan protectorates to this group). Yet the French Maghreb was anomalous within the empire, as Osborne argues: most of France's colonies were conquered and administered through the navy rather than the army, making this branch of the armed forces the crucible of French imperial management for much of the modern period.
Osborne thus begins his book with a chapter on the making of the modern French navy, beginning in 1689. Here, Osborne focuses on the importance of place in the making of institutions, putting the Atlantic ports of Brest and Rochefort as well as the Mediterranean port of Toulon under the spotlight, which became not only significant naval installations, but also critical sites for military medicine in a newly rationalized navy. By the 1730s, these were the central locations for naval surgical training and were among the few locations outside of the rarified world of Parisian academic medicine for medical education. Subsequent chapters follow important developments in the history of tropical medicine. Osborne traces the evolution of hygienism and medical geography of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as they developed into a new science of race as viewed through the lens of yellow fever in particular. Throughout the book, the uses of medicine for naval objectives—as well as the capacity of a medi- calized armed force to develop new knowledge in colonial settings—provides useful insight into the transformation of medical paradigms. The book then describes the gradual decline of these naval hospitals under the Third Republic, and their eventual displacement by new colonial medical institutions in Paris and Marseille by the beginning of the twentieth century.
This is not a story of Latour's "Pasteurian style" in action. Although Osborne discusses Pasteur and his followers throughout the book, the focus is on naval medicine as the critical armature of colonial medicine through the nineteenth century. Osborne thus provides an important complement to studies of the globalization of the Pasteur Institutes as the foundation of French tropical medicine. He also narrates a fascinating story about how tropical science intersected with naval agendas. Jean Comaroff noted both rupture and continuity in the development of European...