Theses Bachelor's

Medicine as Colonial Enterprise: The Founding of the Pasteur Institute in Saigon, 1891

Sun, Bob Z.

In 1891, naval physician Albert Calmette successfully lobbied the French government for the creation of a medical laboratory to study smallpox, rabies, cholera, and other diseases; he would also produce smallpox and rabies serum for local vaccinations. The proposal was a historical landmark not only because it became the first expansion of the Pasteur Institute in Paris—a government-sanctioned institution that continued Louis Pasteur’s recent discoveries in microbiology—but also because the laboratory was to be in Saigon. That the first offshoot of a French scientific body should be so far from the metropole, and extant merely three years after the Paris Institute’s 1888 founding, merits investigation.

Science and medicine were not isolated in an ivory tower but were deeply engaged in society: at the turn of the 20th century, European society was preoccupied with colonialism. It is no accident that the heyday of European expansion and control overseas was also the heyday of the expansion of “Western” science and medicine outside of Europe. The founding of the Pasteur Institute in Saigon provides a case study of the ways in which colonialism impinged on all aspects of society, including medicine, and as importantly, how medicine influenced colonialism.

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Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2014