Cartographic Infrastructures: Geographical Pathology, Tumour Safaris and Colonial Networks in British East Africa
Cartographies of diseases – from Victorian sanitary maps to colonial medico-topographical surveys to today’s Global Burden of Disease atlases – have long played an important role in medicine and public health. For the most part, scholars in the social sciences and humanities have been concerned with how these disease maps, conceived as scientific tools or cultural texts, help make medical and political realities. In this paper, we take a different approach, examining not how maps make our world but the human, epistemic and material infrastructures that allow the making of maps.
To illustrate our approach, we explore a series of maps charting the geographical distribution of a distinctive child jaw tumour across sub-Saharan Africa published in the early 1960s by a British colonial doctor named Denis Burkitt. We start by discussing the postwar intellectual tradition and international networks of geographical pathology that informed Burkitt’s work on the jaw tumour. We also analyse the surveillance practices underpinning Burkitt’s maps, from medical safaris to ecological mapping. And we study the colonial networks, from the communities of colonial medical officers and missionary doctors to the imperial road and postal systems, on which Burkitt relied to make his maps.
Our key aim, when bringing to the fore these different sorts of cartographic infrastructures, is to shift our analytical gaze from maps’ performative power to their conditions of possibility. But our approach also helps decentre Burkitt when telling the genealogy of his maps and eschew recounting the hero-story found in many of the medical hagiographies about him.
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