This is a Digital Humanities project about the medical history of British India based on documents held by the National Library of Scotland. In order to gain meaningful insights from this large corpus of material we used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse the documents.
The Medical History of British India archive consists of reports and documents about disease, institutions, drugs, veterinary medicine, mental health, and vaccination in India from around 1850 to 1950. This archive has medical historical value, providing a window for us to understand the history of the treatment and prevention of some diseases in British India. However, it is important to keep in mind that these documents were recorded from the point of view of the British colonial authorities and written in the English language. Therefore, their contents cannot be taken at face value, but need to be explored critically.
Our individual research projects cover a wide range of subjects, such as resistance of the local population, discussions around drugs, morality, and gender inequality. Moreover we cover how the archive represents the living situation of marginalised groups such as women, ‘coolie‘ labourers, sex workers, and mental hospital patients to reveal the colonial, male-centered power discourse that permeates these documents. Without quantitative methods, these viewpoints could not have been gained this clearly. It was only by searching through the whole corpus of text that we were able to detect some of the language patterns in the archive, something close reading would not have been able to do. For more information about the methods we used to approach the archive material review our research page.
If you want to learn about the network of the British Empire, visit our map page. Here, we visualise the journeys of ships mentioned across the archive. One of the first things we noticed when we started to map data from the documents contained in the Medical History of British India was its geographical range. We expected to encounter more mentions within the limits of the subcontinent and instead found a network of places on more than two continents. One word came to mind: Empire. Colonization entails a correlated series of institutions always relating to one structure, for that reason even if the reports we analyzed belonged to one specific area, as is the medical, crossed with this was a preoccupation with the wellbeing of the British Empire as whole. And for that to be working it required all branches to be efficient and most importantly, productive.
These archival documents were created at a specific point in time and served purposes for the colonial authorities that went beyond mere recording of information. We hope that this website will be able to bring these old archival documents to life and to teach about not only the medical history of British India, but also shed light on exertion of power in the Empire at large.