Lecture / Reading

Lauren Killingsworth on Mapping an Epidemic: Cholera in Nineteenth-Century Colonial India

Sponsored by Stanford University Libraries, David Rumsey Map Center


Friday, May 15, 2020
3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
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This live talk will be held online via Zoom.

Disease maps have become increasingly common in our world today. Disease maps shape public perception of disease — they influence the way we view specific populations and assign responsibility for disease. They can illuminate health disparities, but also generate stigma. This talk explores the deeply political nature of disease maps, focusing on an imperial initiative to map epidemic disease in late nineteenth-century colonial India.

In the late 1860s, the British government announced an initiative to map cholera across India. Here, Lauren traces the origin, evolution, and reception of this contentious and highly resource-intensive mapping project. Government officials touted cholera maps as instrumental in elucidating the origin and transmission of cholera, but there is little evidence that they enhanced understanding of disease. Rather, they aimed to enforce hierarchies between the British and their colonized subjects and within the British bureaucracy, and to reinforce administrative borders. 

Cholera maps were designed to project control, but the map-making process exposed unreliable statistics and a reliance on indigenous knowledge. Disdain for the mapping initiative grew into concerns that extended beyond public health administration. Resistance took the form of new disease mapping approaches that directly countered imperial motives. Though the mapping initiative intended to enforce compliance at all levels of governance, it ultimately raised tension and resistance amongst colonial administrators, exposing the weaknesses of the colonial system of knowledge and surveillance.

Lauren Killingsworth is an MD-PhD candidate in the History of Science and Medicine. She holds an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Her dissertation examined the history of medical cartography in colonial India. As an undergraduate at Stanford, she studied Biology and History, and conducted research on cholera mapping in nineteenth-century Oxford. She is the 2017 Ristow Prize Winner for academic achievement in the history of cartography. 

3:00pm PDT - Zoom opens
3:15-4:15pm PDT - Talk by Lauren Killingsworth, followed by Q&A

This talk is hosted by the David Rumsey Map Center.