Exploding Mosquito Larvae and Jumping Lab Rats

I’m often tempted, when researching the history of science, to focus on experiments that seem, today, to have been odd or unusual. This is not a helpful approach. It can belittle the scientific understandings of the past and reinforce the simplistic story that ideas inexorably improve over time. Despite this, recently I found myself giving…

Retiring Elephants in the Southern Shan States

In 1936 the imperial government sanctioned the abolition of the elephant establishments used by several colonial officials serving in the Southern Shan States—the more accessible part of the hilly regions of northeast colonial Burma. Most of the elephants were sold off. But two elderly female elephants did not attract any buyers. They were both around…

Hunting White Elephants Across Archives

It’s a miserably wet day in Delhi, so I’m using this as an opportunity to catch up on my blog, which has been neglected for the past few weeks. I’m in Delhi, instead of Yangon, in order to use the National Archive of India. This is the first time that I have used this archive….

‘The Philosopher Burmese Prince’ and the Air-Pump

The other week I found a digitized archive of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, a periodical originally founded under a different name by the famed colonial Orientalist scholar William Jones. I was having a flick through looking for articles on Burma and found the following little article from early 1833. I haven’t…

Burma’s Climate and ‘Masculine Nerves’

The other day I was going through the massive pile of scrappy bits of paper that are my old PhD research notes looking for something I could distinctly remember having, but was inevitably unable to find, when I came across a poem. Written in 1911, it succinctly summed up a major theme in my research….

A Dog’s Life in Colonial Burma

I have just finished reading a traveller’s account of Burma published in 1909 and purportedly written by a dog. The dog, called ‘John’, travelled the northern-most reaches of the colony with his master, ‘the Colonel’, the Colonel’s wife, the ‘Mem Sahib’, their female friend, referred to only as ‘Missy Sahib’, and their entourage of Indian…

Imperial Book Club

Whilst I was slowly wading my way through Viceroy Curzon’s correspondence this summer, I came a across a letter sent in 1901 from the Secretary of State for India, George Hamilton, in which he recommended a novel. Well, sort of. I have been reading a clever but disgusting book named Anna Lombard; it deals with…

Condiments of Colonialism

A few days ago I read a blog post on Le Minh Khai’s great Southeast Asian history blog on Worcestershire Sauce adverts in 1930s Siam, and the Don Draper-esq mental acrobatics involved in selling this quintessentially English condiment to Thais by telling them that Americans liked it. Then today, thanks to Thant Myint-U’s facebook page,…

Can an Elephant Commit Murder?

I recently gave a paper about elephants in colonial Burma at a fantastic conference on ‘Animals and Empire’ here in Bristol. Throughout the day the question of whether animals had ‘agency’ in history was raised and much debated. Of course, there is one species of animal that historians have had little issue granting agency to,…

Anti-Islamic Abuse in Burma and Britain, the Colonial Past and Present

Last week ┬áit was the anniversary of the anti-Indian riots that broke out in colonial Rangoon in 1930. They were ignited when striking Indian dock workers came into conflict with the Burmese labourers recruited to replace them. This clash then spilled over into a broader wave of anti-Indian violence, leaving over one hundred Indians dead….

Plague and (Amateur) Photography in Colonial Burma

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about some official photographs taken of British measures to combat the plague in Burma taken during 1906. These images showed British doctors administering vaccinations and checking patients’ symptoms. What they omitted were the more coercive and invasive aspects of anti-plague measures, such as the dismantling and disinfecting…

Burmese Jugglers in Imperial Britain

Historians of empire have been increasingly interested in the movement of people around the globe. During the nineteenth century, this was much more than just Brits going off to distant parts. Colonized peoples visited other colonies, as well as Britain itself, occasionally settling, and individuals of diverse backgrounds traveled between, through, and across different empires….