The Health of the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia

I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in a short trip to Cambodia before the teaching term begins in earnest. I was attending the sixth History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA) conference, that this year was hosted in the tranquil surroundings of the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. This was my first time…

The Call of the Tame

In the introduction to their edited collection, the  geographers Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert drew a distinction between ‘animal spaces’ and ‘beastly places’.  Animal spaces were the material and imaginative geographies that nonhuman species were put by humans. So, dogs belong in a kennel, monkeys in a zoo or the wild, goldfish in a goldfish…

Foucauldians for Corbyn

This week I taught my class introducing students to the work of Michel Foucault. As I do every year, in preparation I went back to some of his writings to refresh my memory and to re-engage myself with the ideas. Every time I do this, something different stands out. This time around, I was more…

Paratextual Pachyderms

This week I read Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot’s 1912 book The Life of an Elephant. It was one of a number of fictional accounts of animal lives written in the early-twentieth century that attempted to capture what it might be like to be another species. Eardley-Wilmot himself had previously published a popular volume on the life of…

Decolonising Democracy

This week Myanmar has held its most important election in a generation. For all of the flaws in the process, this is a huge moment in the country’s history, as well as in the lives of many Burmese people. It means a lot. My Facebook feed has been inundated with pictures of the inky fingers…

Where’s the Cow in the Condensed Milk?

I’ve recently been doing some research into milk production in colonial Burma and going through the pages of the anti-colonial daily newspaper Thuriya for the interwar years. Despite trying to encourage domestic production of commodities through articulating a form of economic nationalism, the paper was mostly full of adverts for foreign products—including both powdered and…

Smells Like Empire (to an Elephant)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post about British colonizers’ sense of smell in Burma. I suggested that what they thought smelt bad revealed their prejudices about Burmese society. In addition, I wrote that they believed their nasal experience of Empire led them to have more refined sensibilities than their compatriots back home….

Hunting Humans

The British did not only hunt animals in Burma, they hunted humans too. At times of widespread rebellion, colonial counter-insurgency strategies involved identifying, tracking and killing particular rebels. Although the ends were different, the methods were similar. So were their narratives about these different chases. Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Ballad of Boh Da Thone’, about…

Missing Links in Myanmar

When I was going through some Burmese colonial-era magazines on my research trip earlier this year, I came across the following article discussing some models that were displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. I think that they were probably part of the ‘Hall of Prehistoric Man’ which opened in 1933. The article was published…

Race and Empire on the 13.24 Train from Cleethorpes

[Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia] “Go on, drink up. Don’t be a faggot.” A can of lager was pushed in front of me. The gesture was a demand. I was being told to demonstrate whether I should be included or not—to show them that I wasn’t queer, to show them I belonged. “No”, cut in the…

Animals in the Asylum

Last week I presented a paper as part of a panel on the history of lunatic asylums at the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies’ annual conference, hosted by the University of Vienna. It was the first time that I had returned to the subject of colonial psychiatry since I completed the research for my…

Jackson the Rhinoceros

One of the exhibits to be included in the up-coming Buddhas and Bird-Skins online exhibition that I am working on with the Bristol Museum, is Jackson the rhinoceros. Here’s a brief biography. He was probably born in the Burma Delta roughly around 1880. He was captured on 27 March 1884 in the Bassein (or Pathein)…