Exhibition: "Prescriptions for Healthy Living in the British Tropics, 1897-1913"

An Exhibition

April 1st to September 6th, 2010

Life Sciences Complex, 3rd floor
3655 Promenade Sir William Osler

The Osler Library is pleased to announce its latest exhibition, Prescriptions for Healthy Living in the British Tropics, 1897-1913, which is dedicated to the development of tropical medicine as a distinct discipline in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in response of the growth of European settler colonies in Britain's tropical empire. Drawing from material held in the Osler Library and elsewhere, it highlights the work done by medical pioneers such as Ronald Ross (1857 - 1932), Patrick Manson (1884-1922) and Andrew Balfour (1873-1931) in combating debilitating tropical illnesses, specifically malaria and heat stroke. The exhibition also shows how theories of illness in turn had an impact on tropical housing design, urban planning and clothing. The display is set up in the Osler Library lobby and will run until the Fall. Steven Serels of the IOWC is the guest curator. He notes:

The rapid expansion of Britain's tropical empire in the last quarter of the nineteenth century coincided with a collective cultural re-imagining of the possibilities of European settlement in the tropics. For most of Britain’s long history of trade and settlement at tropical ports, the tropical interior was understood as a hostile environment, home to both deadly 'savages' and fever inducing miasmas. The high mortality rates of Europeans in this region helped shape Britain's nineteenth century empire; British colonists in the tropics were overwhelmingly male, young and transient. Though military force was used in the late nineteenth century to 'pacify' the indigenous population, Britain's imperial administrators turned to medical knowledge to sanitize what was believed to be an inherently unhealthy natural environment. In the wake of Ronald Ross' (1857 – 1932) discovery of the role of the mosquito in the life cycle of the malaria parasite, a far reaching consensus emerged amongst doctors and their patrons that advances in medical understanding would soon develop cures, treatments and prophylactic measures for all illnesses induced by pathogens endemic to the tropics. This in turn would permit permanent, healthy long term British settlement and rule. Over the decade that followed, doctor's prescriptions for healthy living shaped the daily lives of British colonist in the tropics in unprecedented ways. Though not all colonists choose to listen to their doctor’s advice, new medical concepts helped structure the pattern of British settlement; they dictated the size, color and positioning of housing, the layout of streets, the planting of trees, the designation of 'native' quarters and the choice of clothing worn by colonists, down to the color and fabric of their underwear.