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Indian plague maps and the colonial urban

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This paper examines two disease maps, produced 7 years apart by medical authorities in late 19th/early 20th century India, and asks how understandings of infection interlinked with colonial imaginaries of urban space. In the first map, from 1899, the urban is presented as a seemingly smooth surface across which disease – in this case plague – is generated and moves. Colonial health officials here understood plague as a ‘total’ disease of the city in which the problematic feature of the urban is its seeming lack of barriers to transmission. The second map, from 1906, presents a quite different view; disease is no longer a problem of total space, but rather of social barriers and boundaries, which produce specificities of transformation not imagined in the earlier image. This paper considers how colonial science was productive both of particular ways of seeing the urban, and of ways of imagining a future urban: each of these maps has its own utopian end-point, which is premised upon a particular model of Indian urban space as revealed through ideas of the transmission, contagion, and the movement of disease.

This talk is part of the Visual Constructions of South Asia (2014-15) series.

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