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‘Something in his blood’: Hidden infection, race, and the spaces of Patrick Manson’s tropical medical research in London

Kristin Hussey will present work from her recently published monograph Imperial Bodies in London: Empire, Mobility and the Making of British Medicine.

Sir Patrick Manson teaching at the Albert Dock Seamen's Hospital 1901
Sir Patrick Manson teaching at the Albert Dock Seamen's Hospital 1901

In 1910, Patrick Manson sat down to pen a letter to his son-in-law Philip Manson-Bahr. The ageing Manson called on his daughter Edith to help him finish the letter. She noted in the margin: ‘Dr Roe … has just come back from West Africa full of something in his blood and father is very impressed.’ A dinner party became a research opportunity: social networks overlapping with the professional. Did Manson fetch his microscope from his laboratory upstairs to prepare a blood sample? Was a wriggling parasite revealed through the lens for the enjoyment of the other dinner guests? Did Dr Roe come back for a private consultation the next day? Unfortunately, as with most research carried out in domestic spaces, these fleeting encounters are very rarely recorded. However, what we can safely assume is that this was far from an uncommon occurrence in the Manson household.  

This paper is about Patrick Manson (1844–1920) and his role at the centre of a busy trans-imperial network of bodies and diseases. As historians like Douglas N. Haynes have argued, Manson’s ability to establish himself as the ‘father’ of the emerging specialism of tropical medicine was largely dependent on his ability to position himself within imperial networks.  

In this paper, Dr Kristin Hussey considers how Manson actively created networks of imperial bodies to support his research through a spatial perspective by interrogating the key sites of his work in his period: his home at 21 Queen Anne Street and the Albert Dock Hospital. Along the way, Dr Hussey uses this micro lens to enliven the experience of being one of Manson’s patients – and the role of race in these encounters. She will suggest that a look to infection, race, and space in Manson’s London research reveals a unique imperial medical culture that viewed hidden tropical diseases as a coveted opportunity for practitioners to advance both knowledge and their careers.

Speaker

Dr Kristin Hussey is a historian of science and medicine and a curator. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Medical Museion where she studies circadian rhythms in historical and cultural context. In 2021, she published her first book Imperial Bodies in London: Empire, Mobility and the Making of British Medicine (University of Pittsburgh Press) which is a postcolonial history of medicine in London. Developed from her PhD thesis undertaken at Queen Mary University of London, the book uses the body as a guide through race, power, disease, and environment in the imperial city. She has also worked in numerous collections and curatorial roles at the Science Museum, the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Royal College of Physicians Museum.   

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