Led by Dr Christos Lynteris and funded by the Wellcome Trust with an Investigator Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences “The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis” (2019-2024) examines the global history of a foundational but historically neglected process in the development of scientific approaches of zoonosis: the global war against the rat (1898-1948). The project is hosted at the Department of Social Anthropology of the University of St Andrews.
The project explores the synergies between knowledge acquired through medical studies of the rat, in the wake of understanding its role in the transmission of infectious diseases (plague, leptospirosis, murine typhus), with knowledge acquired during the development and application of public health measures of vector-control: rat-proofing, rat-catching and rat-poisoning.
By examining the epistemological, architectural, social, and chemical histories of rat control from a global, comparative perspective, the project will show how new forms of epidemiological reasoning about key zoonotic mechanisms (the epizootic, the disease reservoir, and species invasiveness) arose around the epistemic object of the rat.
Three Collaborative Objectives (COs) will engage the project’s researchers in interdisciplinary collaboration:
- CO1. How the global war against the rat contributed to scientific understandings of the zoonotic impact of epizootics.
- CO2. How the global war against the rat contributed to scientific understandings of disease reservoirs.
- CO3. How the global war against the rat contributed to scientific understandings of species invasiveness as a driver of zoonosis.
Project Work Packages
WP1 Rat Epidemiology – Epistemological Histories
Led by the PI, WP1 will examine the global development of scientific, laboratory and field studies of the rat as a host/vector of plague, leptospirosis and murine. It will seek to understand how the rat was transformed into an epistemic object for epidemiology and what kinds of knowledge about human- animal contact as a driver of zoonotic infection were made possible by this process
WP2 Rat Proofing – Architectural Histories
Led by a PDRA, WP2 will examine rat-proofing practices and campaigns as these unfolded in colonial and metropolitan contexts so as to understand how they led to the emergence of new forms of human-rat interaction, and how they contributed to the development of scientific understandings of zoonosis. WP2 will examine the history of “building out the rat” or “rat proofing” as: a) a source of new understandings about infrastructural aspects of zoonotic infection and human-animal contact; b) a global driver of public-health-oriented infrastructural innovation.
WP3 Rat Catching – Social Histories
Led by a PDRA, WP3 will examine rat-catching practices and campaigns as these unfolded in colonial and metropolitan contexts (including but not limited to British India, the USA, and Brazil) so as to understand how they led to the emergence of new forms of human-rat interaction, and how they contributed to the development of scientific understandings of zoonosis. WP3 will compare rat-catching conducted through a) civic mobilisation and b) professional bodies of rat-catchers, so as to elucidate the different kinds of human-rat interaction that these involved and the different forms of zoonosis-related knowledge they developed, particularly in relation to the rat’s habitat, and its sentient and spatial behaviour.
WP4 Rat Poisoning – Chemical Histories
Led by a PhD student, WP4 will examine the chemical history of the global war against rats, by focusing on the development of rat-poisoning for domestic, public and industrial use in British India (1898-1947). Drawing a historical anthropological study of interspecies relations in epidemic control, research will focus on the entanglement between experimental and observational studies of the impact of different poisons on rats in India, and the way in which these contributed to zoonosis-related knowledge and to a transformation of human-rat relations.
Project Funding ID
PI: Dr Christos Lynteris
Host Institution: Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews
Project Acronym: WWRAT
Effective Start/End Date: 01/10/2019 to 30/09/2024
Funder Project Reference: 217988/Z/19/Z
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Grant Type: Wellcome Investigator Award (Humanities and Social Sciences)
Award Value: £990,164.00
Image credit: A black rat sitting upright on the ground. Etching by W. S. Howitt, 1808; courtesy of Wellcome Collection