Techno-Imperialism and the Origins of Global Health

Grant Data
Project Title
Techno-Imperialism and the Origins of Global Health
Principal Investigator
Dr Peckham, Robert Shannan   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
British Empire, Telecommunications, Epidemics, Global Health, Surveillance
Humanities & Social Sciences (H)
RGC General Research Fund (GRF)
HKU Project Code
Grant Type
General Research Fund (GRF)
Funding Year
2) Explore how imperial communication systems developed in dynamic response to specific disease threats, including epidemics of cholera, plague, and influenza. To what extent were these systems employed in different ways to deal with different diseases or was the effect the same, regardless? In the 1870s and 1880s, as much of Asia was being linked by cable, laboratory science began to underpin sanitary and public health interventions. How did these coincidental innovations in biomedicine and communication technologies reinforce each other? 3) Investigate the role of non-governmental institutions in shaping official information-collecting practices and intelligence-assessment methods. Previous research has shown how the expansion of telegraphy in the 1870s (and later of telephony and radio) was crucial for the distension of a global media. While news and government intelligence were relayed along the same pathways, agencies such as Reuters became vital to the processes of imperial governance and global commerce. What were the consequences of these convergences and how did governmental and non-governmental agencies interact to produce actionable intelligence? 4) Assess the extent to which communication technologies produced disruptive feedbacks, amplifying the crises they sought to manage. I hypothesise, based on previous research, that these technologies frequently had countervailing effects, necessitating the development of other, ‘corrective’ technologies. Relatedly, the project will assess the uneven appropriation of these technologies across the Empire in Asia. 5) Document the interrelationship between war, technology, and disease, with a particular focus on the role of communication systems during and after the influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920. Did military conflicts create favourable conditions for the take-up and development of communication technologies and, specifically, their repurposing for disease prevention and control? 6) Consider the degree to which transformative technologies were generated through recombinations of older technologies with a focus on the shift from telegraphy to ‘wireless’ communication, and the arrival of radio in the 1920s and 1930s. How were existing appliances and networks adapted and how did these adaptations impact upon the meaning and scope of ‘intelligence’? The purpose is also to track continuities – and discontinuities – between earlier practices for acquiring and disseminating information that pre-dated the telegraph (for example, the Lloyd’s agency network). 7) Reflect on how communication technologies helped to produce a new arena of pan-Asian intervention. How did imperial concerns about the transnational threat posed by infectious disease impact upon local practices and knowledge? And to what extent did local priorities shape an incipient global regime of health?