History of Science Colloquium with Dr Stephen Snelders. He will present his book Leprosy and Colonialism: Suriname under Dutch Rule, 1750-1950.
This book is the first result coming out of the NWO funded project ‘Leprosy and Empire’, which started some years ago. Another book is due in 2018 and recently, an article presenting a synthetic overview was accepted.
Leprosy and Empire
The project as a whole seeks to understand the rationale of colonial health policies. Health policy in a multicultural setting has never been simply a matter of imposing western knowledge on a passive indigenous population. Instead, colonial health policies proved to be determined to a significant degree by the economic needs of the colonizer and by local power relations. By looking at responses to one disease (leprosy) in two very different setting (Suriname and the Dutch East Indies) colonized by the same nation (The Netherlands), it becomes clear how health policies took shape in practice.
The take home message of this project is that although comparative history is very hard work, in the end it pays off. The most important outcome of the project is that responses to leprosy (either repressive or lenient) were determined by issues of labour management and of racial conflict, influencing the management, framing, and construction of the disease.