Reframing Disease Reservoirs: Histories & Ethnographies of Pathogens & Pestilence

1st annual conference of The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis project; Online Conference, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews

26-28 May 2021

Registration is free. To register please contact: [email protected] by May 20 2021 at 2pm.

The idea of disease reservoirs – that particular animals, people, or environments harbour or distribute disease – has profoundly shaped human relationships to nature. From plague-stricken rats and trypanosomiasis-harbouring zebra to bats as suspect reservoirs of COVID-19 or Ebola, animals have been central to epidemiology and disease management since the end of the nineteenth century. Creatures bearing the label of ‘reservoir’ have been cast as reviled pests to be eliminated, managed as potential risks through new forms of sanitary intervention or mapped with curiosity about the diversity of their species. Moreover, entire environments have been denounced as ‘diseased’ or ‘unhealthy’ or in need of ‘cleansing’ through vast sanitary campaigns. Marginalised humans, likewise, have been stigmatized as reservoirs of disease and, at times, such thinking has been deployed in justification of segregation and discrimination. With its range of meanings and uncertainties, the concept of a disease reservoir has been epistemologically fraught, taking on different meanings amongst different groups of people in different periods. What constitutes a reservoir, and which animals, plants, or environments are reservoirs of disease? How and where did this concept emerge and why? What is its intellectual lineage? Which other medical concepts intersected with the idea of the disease reservoir throughout its history?

Bringing together perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences in dialogue with the life sciences, this online conference seeks to understand the past and present of disease reservoirs. In so doing, it aims to elucidate the historical construction of the concept of a disease reservoir, its epistemological complexities and ethnographic realities, and to examine how it has shaped relationships between humans, animals, space, wilderness and the environment.


Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Oliver French (University of St Andrews)

In collaboration with Frédéric Keck (CNRS – Collège de France – EHESS)

Wed 26 May 2021
9:30-10:00Welcome and opening remarks
10:30-12:30Panel 1: Animals in Motion | Chair: Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)  

Folie à Plusieurs: An ethnographic study of a suspected newly-emerging infectious disease outbreak investigation in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana | Freya L. Jephcott (University of Cambridge)

Dogs as Carriers of Justice: Rabies and social discrimination in rural Western India | Deborah Nadal (University of Glasgow)

Animal Habitation as Disease Reservoirs in British India: Colonial adjustments and maladjustments to the disease reservoirs | Maidul Rahaman (Kazi Nazrul University)  

The Parrot Fever Pandemic: Wild birds as a global reservoir | Frédéric Keck (CNRS-Collège de France-EHESS)  
12:30-13:30Lunchtime social
13:30-15:30Panel 2: Animal Friends or Foes | Chair: Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Rodents and Leishmaniasis | Jaime Larry Benchimol (Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz)

“Call on Nature”: Species sanitation, habitat and biological control of malaria in the early-twentieth century – Gambusia affinis against the mosquito | Jordan Goodman (University College London)  

The ‘Ebola Bat’ Fetish: Virus samplers and disease reservoir research in post-Ebola Guinea | Emmanuelle Roth (University of Cambridge)

Putting Rats on the Map: Plague and anti-epidemic labour in early-twentieth century South Africa | Jacob Steere-Williams (College of Charleston)
16:30-18:00Keynote Lecture: Genese Sodikoff (Rutgers University)
The Proverbial Reservoir: Moralising with rats in Madagascar’s plague zones
Thu 27 May 2021
10:30-12:30Panel 1: Environment, Climate, and Ecosystem | Chair: Frédéric Keck (CNRS – Collège de France – EHESS)  

Plague Deserts: Wild rodents, international organizations and the emergence of sylvatic plague (1907-1935) | Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)  
Eclipses, Epidemics and Other Diseases in José Hipólito Unanue’s Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima | Virginia Ghelarducci (School of Advanced Study, University of London)  

Edges of Disease and Boundary Animals in Agri-Cultural Space: Farming the twentieth century | Karen Sayer (Leeds Trinity University)  

Contacts and Contacts of Contacts: Ebola vaccine ‘rings’ and the pragmatics of inclusion in humanitarian experimentation | Ann H. Kelly (King’s College London)  
12:30-13:30Lunchtime social
13:30-15:30Panel 2: Race, Sexuality and Indigeneity  | Chair: Lukas Engelmann (University of Edinburgh)

Modernizing a Disease Reservoir? Politics, economy and the medical discourse on the plague and the Eastern Mediterranean in German medical publications between 1780 and 1840 | Marcel Chahrour (Austrian Exhibition Centre Schallaburg)  

Draining the Reservoir: Mid-twentieth-century venereal disease control and the rise of the male homosexual, 1936 to 1969 | Richard A. McKay (University of Cambridge)  

The Beauty of the Forests and the Dirt of the Cities: An ethnography of the Guarani-Mbya people and rats in the Jaraguá Indigenous Land (São Paulo, Brazil) | Bruno Silva Santos (Federal University of São Carlos)  
16:00-18:00Panel 3: Imperial Spaces | Chair: Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

The Sanitizing Mission: Germ reservoir, British colonial administration and African agency in Western Nigeria | Adebisi Alade (McMaster University)  

Rat Reservoirs at Sea: Rats, spaces, and contamination on British and American imperial vessels, 1820s-1920s | Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Searching for Rodents in Ottoman History | Nükhet Varlik (Rutgers University)

Donors, Recipients and the Biogeocenose: The reservoir concept in Soviet disease ecology | Susan D. Jones (University of Minnesota)
Fri 28 May 2021
10:30-12:30Panel 1: Buildings and Infrastructure | Chair: Oliver French (University of St Andrews)  

The House as Host: Plague, malaria, and home improvement in Java | Maurits Bastiaan Meerwijk (Hong Kong University)  

Reservoirs as Reservoirs: Infrastructures of disease in colonial Malaya and Hong Kong, 1890s-1940s | Jack Greatrex (Hong Kong University)  

More-than-human Homes: Spaces and temporalities of the Lassa Fever reservoir | Almudena Marí Sáez (Robert Koch Institute) Hannah Brown (Durham University)  

Porous Species: Indeterminacy and contagion as curatorial devices | Fritha Langerman (University of Cape Town)  
12:30-13:30Lunchtime social
16:00-18:00Panel 2: Cities and Architecture | Chair: Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

The National Plague Service and the Fight Against the Bubonic Plague in Brazil (1940-1950) | Simone Luna (Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz)  

A Plague on the Land, on the Sea, and in the Sewers: Yersinia pestis and the genus Rattus in Bombay, India | Emily Webster (University of Chicago)    

Bridging Plague Intervals: British colonial medical approaches to inter-epidemic maintenance in urban environments | Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)  

The Rodent Bait Station as Reservoir | Christopher Kelty (University of California, Los Angeles)   
18:15-19:45Reframing Disease Reservoirs: keynote roundtable and closing remarks | Chair: Frédéric Keck (CNRS – Collège de France – EHESS)

Michael Kosoy (KB One Health)
Jakob Zinsstag (Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute)
Tamara Giles-Vernick (Pasteur Institute)

Adebisi Alade
The Sanitizing Mission: Germ reservoir, British colonial administration and African agency in Western Nigeria

Seeing the British sphere of influence in West Africa as “undeveloped estate” in the late-nineteenth century, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain tasked Dr Patrick Manson (the Chief Medical Advisor to the Colonial Office) with finding a solution to the problem of tropical diseases in West Africa. This solution was to bring about a reduction in the death of Europeans which made formal colonization difficult for Britain in the region. In December 1898, Dr Manson declared that “the direct causes of ninety-nine percent of tropical diseases [in West Africa] are germs.” Although he tilted more towards curative than to preventive medicine, Dr Manson argued that a germ-focused sanitation program was all Britain needed to introduce and administer in its West African colonies if major diseases were to be eliminated. Based on this (un)conscious categorization of the West African environment as a reservoir of disease-causing germs, the Medical Advisor proposed that “to kill them then is simply a matter of knowledge and the application of this knowledge – sanitary science and sanitation in fact.” This paper examines how the British colonial administration in western Nigeria deployed environmental sanitation for the management of the disease reservoir, and importantly, the unintended consequences of the British sanitizing mission in the colony.

Jaime Larry Benchimol
Rodents and Leishmaniases

My research deals with the history of the leishmaniases, an anthropozoonosis complex transmitted by phlebotomine sandflies and caused by many species of protozoans of the genus Leishmania. This complex was ‘built’ at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through the combination of cutaneous and visceral diseases that apparently had nothing in common. A new genus was created – Leishmania – to accommodate the parasites then incriminated as the etiological agents of Oriental sore and kala-azar. In 1909, researchers from São Paulo, Brazil, produced the first diagnoses of leishmaniosis autochthonous to the American continent. The disease differed in many respects from Oriental sore: the parasite could attack not only the skin but also mucous tissues; it had a graver clinical course and spread in forest zones, not in urban centers. It was inevitable to suppose that there was a sylvatic cycle of transmission of the American cutaneous and mucocutaneous disease. This was true also regarding American visceral leishmaniasis, when it emerged as a public health problem in Brazil, in the 1930s, in the wake of the efforts to understand the recently discovered sylvatic yellow fever. The problem of the sylvatic hosts of Leishmania was addressed vigorously only from the 1960’s onwards, with great emphasis on rodents. Domestic rodents, sometimes related to the transmission of bubonic plague, were also incriminated. The parasite-host relation was studied in a less anthropocentric frame than the one used at the beginning of the twentieth century. There was an increased interest in the zoonoses and the paths taken by parasites from sylvatic animals, their original hosts, to man and domestic animals. The previous generations focused mainly on man and his pathological condition. Without losing sight of human health, researchers from the New and Old Worlds paid more attention to the evolutionary dynamics of the host-parasite relation that became more ‘explosive’ inasmuch as human interventions in the environment widened. The scenarios recovered by parasitologists became more polycentric by force of the globalization of capitalism and of the economic and political initiatives derived from the dispute for areas of influence in the ‘underdeveloped’ world by the powers that led the socialist and capitalist blocs during the cold war. Hydroelectric plants, roads, agricultural and mining enterprises penetrated deeper in the hinterlands, and as a consequence parasites of sylvatic animals spread among new vertebrate hosts, human populations and their domestic animals.

Marcel Chahrour
Modernizing a Disease Reservoir? Politics, economy and the medical discourse on the plague and the Eastern Mediterranean in German medical publications between 1780 and 1840

The plague had been menacing central Europe ever since the middle ages. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Habsburg monarchy established what was called a “sanitary border” on the Balkans to block the suspected import of the illness. At the end of the eighteenth century, more and more physicians expressed doubts about simplistic explanations for the communication of the plague and focussed on investigating the reasons for what was called “the creation of the plague”. German medical publications soon identified the Ottoman Empire and Egypt as “the natural home” of the plague and therefore geographical “disease reservoirs”. A number of publications discussed the living conditions in Egypt, calling it the “hotbed” of plague. Assuming that the plague could be produced out of a special set of circumstances, unsanitary living conditions, the flooding of the Nile, the climate and the “fatalism of Muslims” were declared main reasons for this more or less permanent “creation” of the plague. As economic ties between Central Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean were getting closer, the quarantines which had been in use in many harbours of the Adriatic, were considered a major impediment of trade. By shifting the focus of the fight against the plague towards the Ottoman Empire and Egypt (and away from their own quarantines), the Habsburg authorities were able to facilitate their own economic ambitions in this region. Identifying Egypt and the Ottoman Empire as the origins of the plague was a central element of this political and economic discourse. Physicians thus argued for a reform of the medical structures of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. The proposed paper will discuss the main arguments used by physicians when attributing the origins of the plague to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire between 1780 and 1840 and show that the medical concept of the origin of the plague in these regions was closely linked to political and economic considerations.

Virginia Ghelarducci
Eclipses, Epidemics and Other Diseases in José Hipólito Unanue’s Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima

This paper analyses the relationship between climate, natural phenomena and epidemics in the treatise Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima published by the physician José Hipólito Unanue in 1806. In 1720 Lima was hit by what was believed to be a plague epidemic shortly after an eclipse which was supposed to have played a significant role in the outbreak of the illness. In his effort to understand the spreading of epidemic diseases, Unanue focused his attention on climate and specific geographical conditions that can negatively affect people’s health. He also considered why some ethnic groups seemed to be more prone to certain diseases due to their humoral constitution and interaction with the environment. Through a selection of key passages, this paper will explore Unanue’s medical topography while highlighting how, using the particularly favourable geographic position and temperate climate of Lima as case study, Unanue counteracts the European stereotypical narrative promoted by Buffon and De Pauw who described the environment of South America as unhealthy and its nature as degenerate, only able to produce small, weak animals and inferior human beings.

Jordan Goodman
“Call on Nature”: Species sanitation, habitat and biological control of malaria in the early-twentieth century – Gambusia affinis against the mosquito

On 1 July 1899, the British Medical Journal published Ronald Ross’s inaugural lecture as the newly-appointed member of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Only two years earlier he had made a fundamental breakthrough in the understanding of malaria, by showing that the life cycle of the malaria parasite depended on two hosts, the human and the mosquito, and that the culprit was the genus Anopheles. Ross now made it clear that he was moving away from explaining malaria to eradicating it. As he told his audience “it is advisable to declare war against the whole genus”. Catching and killing the flying mosquito on a sufficient scale, he argued, was impractical but attacking its vulnerable side, the larval stage, was possible. Although he never mentioned biological control, that is how malaria eradication programs soon developed by introducing the voracious minnow, Gambusia affinis, known commonly as the mosquitofish, into the mosquito’s habitat. This paper will use this example of biological control in order to engage with the conference’s aims; specifically raising the possibilities of refining the concept of “disease reservoir” along ecological lines, incorporating the idea of habitat as a way of bridging environment and reservoir in historical analyses.

Jack Greatrex
Reservoirs as Reservoirs: Infrastructures of disease in colonial Malaya and Hong Kong, 1890s-1940s

Reservoirs and other infrastructural ‘public works’ were constructed or amended in colonial Malaya and Hong Kong in part to alleviate the threat of epidemic disease – such as the Tai Tam Reservoir in Hong Kong, for instance, linked to fears of bubonic plague. Engineering was a key element of public health strategies. But infrastructures of disease mitigation could also have countervailing effects: reservoirs could be contaminated; railways, canals, and roads could encourage mosquito proliferation; storm drains, barracks, and godowns could harbour rodents. Public works became sites of heightened sanitary suspicion and surveillance; by contrast to their designed purposes, they could become refigured as sites of infection – the reservoir of water could be suspected as a reservoir of disease. This paper both extends arguments about infrastructures ¬¬– composed of ‘vital matter’ ¬– enabling new ecologies of disease transmission while also suggesting that a particular modality of suspicion towards public works as generating disease existed in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It thereby helps to ground ideas of ‘disease reservoirs’, to elucidate colonial concerns with infectious landscapes, and ally medical history to recent work re-orienting ontologies of infrastructure

Freya L Jephcott
Folie à Plusieurs: An ethnographic study of a suspected newly-emerging-infectious-disease outbreak investigation in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana

In 2011 a national field epidemiology team deployed to the Brong-Ahafo Region (BAR) of Ghana to investigate a reported outbreak of B-virus, a simian herpes virus, amongst the region’s children. In their report the team explained that the infected monkeys had likely moved between the affected communities using a ‘forest-belt’ and had infected the children whilst their parents were away tending their farms. Iterations of the forest-belt and the monkeys occupying it appeared in the research proposals and draft manuscripts of numerous transnational research groups that took an interest in the outbreak, as well as appearing in hand-drawn maps produced by local health officials. However, there was no ‘forest-belt’ nor were any monkeys identified in the area of interest, that is except for a single pet Patas monkey which was decapitated and tested negative. Using primary material, interviews, and ethnographic observation from the outbreak response, I trace how a non- existent ‘forest-belt’ and long-vanished local monkey population came to be incorporated into the investigators’ processes of hypothesis building and the implications of this for the effectiveness of the response. My primary ambition in presenting this work is to garner input from other researchers working on imaginaries of animal reservoirs so that I might better understand this highly consequential but as yet unexplained feature of the BAR outbreak response.

Susan D. Jones
Donors, Recipients and the Biogeocenose: The reservoir concept in Soviet disease ecology

From the 1930s to the 1980s, the “natural focus/nidus theory of transmissible disease” was a predominant framework in Soviet epidemiology. This framework situated human disease outbreaks within their environmental context (ecology, geography and climate) during a period of intense Soviet colonialism in the Central Asian republics and regions. How was the “reservoir” concept understood according to this theory, and how did this concept’s meaning change over time? Drawing on Russian and translated sources, I argue that the reservoir concept emerged from the ecological understanding of “donors” and “recipients” of infection within the “biogeocenose,” and that both political and material events shaped this understanding over time.

Ann H. Kelly
Contacts and Contacts of Contacts: Ebola vaccine ‘rings’ and the pragmatics of inclusion in humanitarian experimentation

The potential role of ‘a persistently infected survivor’ in triggering the latest outbreak of Ebola in Guinea has sparked a debate over outbreak vaccination policy and more broadly, the biotechnical conjunctions of preparedness and emergency response. The WHO currently recommends distribution through the construction of ‘rings’, whereby vaccines are offered to the contacts of identified cases and to the contacts of those contacts. The latency of Ebola infection has cast doubt on that approach, leading to calls for prophylactic vaccination of close contacts of survivors. Instrumental to the eradication of smallpox, ‘ring vaccination’ creatively reconfigured during the 2014-2016 West African Ebola Outbreak as a novel clinical trial design that could square the investigative demands of clinical research with the humanitarian imperatives of access. Tracking the fraught politics of inclusion attendant to an emerging paradigm of humanitarian experimentation, this paper seeks to illuminate epidemiological infralogic that is radically constrained by the uncertainties of effectiveness, the exigencies of public health care crisis and material realities of shortage of supply.

Frédéric Keck
The Parrot Fever Pandemic: Wild birds as a global reservoir

In 1930, a global epidemic of psittacosis or “parrot fever” infected 800 persons out of which 112 died. Because most patients had been in direct contact with parrots, birds imported from Brazil to the US and Europe were defined as the cause of the disease, but it turned out that Australian birds also carried its infectious agent, the bacteria Chlamydia. The research of Mayer and Burnet defined the global transportation of birds as a vector of disease, transforming the hypotheses made by Nocard in Pasteurian medicine, and paving the way for research on avian influenza. I will ask how this transformation of birds from companions to villains has been made in the global economy of the 1930’s.

Christopher Kelty
The Rodent Bait Station as Reservoir

Based on two years of fieldwork with pest control professionals in Los Angeles, California, this paper opens up the last black box: the rodent bait station, that small, ubiquitous black box used to deliver poison to black and brown rats in cities around the world. The rodent bait station is a reservoir, a refuge, and a refractory element of urban ecologies today. It is an element of and in the urban ecology – one that serves as a food resource and safe nesting spot, as much as a killing chamber. It purports to keep the population of rats – the reservoir of the most dread diseases – by providing a steady diet of a poison which accumulates so effectively in the food chain that there is no animal in California without traces of it in their bodies. To save its mountain lions, California placed a moratorium on anticoagulant poisons in 2020, leading some to predict a rat apocalypse and the next pandemic. Underestimated in all of this talk of disease and off-target poisoning, the black box itself simply disappears (as it was designed to do), even though it is the key to understanding how the livelihood working class, mostly white pest control technicians intersects with the temporality of anti-coagulant poisons, wildlife activists, disease monitoring veterinarians, and the strange logics of contemporary pest control capitalism.

Fritha Langerman
Porous Species: Indeterminacy and contagion as curatorial devices

Associative language holds persuasive power over the public perception of both disease and the relationship between species. The word reservoir conjures an image of a singular, bounded entity: one that has fixed perimeters and that while it contains, is itself constrained. In this way, it is in keeping with the representation of organisms as discrete entities, differentiated in a hierarchical taxonomy and plotted on an evolutionary diagram that is both linear and progressive. Infectious disease is not discrete, and moving across borders and thresholds, is evidence of an ongoing relationship of inter-speciation. It affords a conceptual permeability between species and allows for the emergence of a competing visual analogy of evolutionary that of web-like entanglement. With reference to two of my exhibitions, Subtle thresholds: the representational taxonomies of disease (2009–2010) and R-A-T: an associative ordering (2012–2013) at the Iziko South African Museum, this paper will demonstrate a curatorial strategy that draws on taxonomic ambiguity and indeterminacy to undermine the divisive representation of both disease and speciation. Permeability suggests a methodology and, in the exhibitions, decentralisation, immersion and the overtly complex interconnections and organisation of visual material, which interrupt the prevailing order of display, are used as agents of productive uncertainty within the natural history museum.

Simone Luna
The National Plague Service and the Fight Against the Bubonic Plague in Brazil (1940-1950)

This proposal examines the public health policies developed by the National Plague Service (SNP, in Portuguese) in fighting the bubonic plague in the north-east of Brazil in the 1940’s and 1950’s and analyses the SNP’s collaboration with the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (OSP, in Portuguese). The SNP was created because of the need to manage, in a more systematic way, the prophylaxis of the plague in Brazil. The disease was endemic in the rural areas of the north-east of the country and public health experts feared that it could become the sylvatic plague, a form of the disease almost impossible to eradicate. The SNP considered that the domestic rat was the reservoir of the disease and therefore applied ratproofing measures to the houses and stores. Thanks to its collaboration with the OSP, the SNP constructed a prophylactic routine using methods applied in Peru and Ecuador such as the poisoning cycles and the use of the flamethrower. Moreover, after the conclusion of a survey made by the OSP, Brazilian experts agreed that sylvatic plague was not present in the country. However, doctors and sanitary officers often found wild rodents killed by the plague bacillus, which generated suspicions about the accuracy of the OSP survey, and this issue contributed to the development of new research conducted by the SNP.

Christos Lynteris
Bridging Plague Intervals: British colonial medical approaches to inter-epidemic maintenance in urban environments

Focusing on India, Australia and Hong Kong in the first decade of the third plague pandemic (1894-1904), the paper examines British colonial medical approaches to the question of inter-epidemic intervals of plague in urban settings. The paper discusses the framing of rats as potential reservoirs of the disease in relation to other suspect means of plague maintenance. Underlining the unstable and generative aspects of epidemiological uncertainty, the paper argues that, more than simply leading to competing theories about the principal reservoir of plague, framings of different animals and materials allowed the development of epidemiological reasoning around dynamic systems of inter-related agents of inter-epidemic maintenance in urban environments.

Maurits Bastiaan Meerwijk
The House as Host: Plague, malaria, and home improvement in Java

When plague first reached Java in 1911, Dutch colonial physicians and officials became concerned with the role of the house in transmission. The structure was more than a space of infection. Rather, the house was seen to play an active role in conveying the disease – and as such, it was integrated in plague’s tentative rat-flea-man transmission scheme to formulate a quite peculiarly Javanese plague ecology. This characterisation of plague supported the largest health intervention of the Dutch colonial period. Between 1911 and 1942, more than 1.6 million houses were renovated or rebuilt. Home improvement sought to ‘build out’ the rat and thereby break the chain of infection to humans. The method proved highly successful in countering plague, but belatedly – twenty years into the scheme – the ‘improved’ dwellings were found to contain a crucial flaw. Instead of plague, they now facilitated malaria transmission. In this paper, I examine the framing of the traditional Javanese house as a host of plague, the reasoning that underpinned its ‘improvement’, and how the renovations resulted in the ‘hygienic’ houses that facilitated veritable ‘explosions’ of malaria instead. Through this history, I seek to determine if and how ‘linear’ understandings of human / animal relations as they pertain to health gave way to broader – ecological – understandings of interspecies contact instead. In short: how was the house framed and responded to as an emergent ‘reservoir’ of disease in late-colonial Java.

Richard A. McKay
Draining the Reservoir: Mid-twentieth-century venereal disease control and the rise of the male homosexual, 1936 to 1969

In British Columbia, as in other parts of North America, the 1930s and 1940s witnessed reinvigorated efforts to control venereal disease (VD). Beginning in 1936, provincial authorities expanded funding for free clinics in the largest cities of Vancouver and Victoria, and empowered a centralized bureaucracy to more efficiently address high rates of infection. Soon armed with persuasive local statistics, public health workers waged a high-profile campaign to tackle an entrenched system of commercialized prostitution. As they continued their efforts “to decrease the reservoir of early syphilis” following the Second World War, health workers made a surprising discovery. “We have been forcibly made aware,” two Vancouver physicians reported in 1951, “of a hitherto unsuspected source of the spread of venereal disease, namely homosexuality.” Drawing on archival, newspaper, and oral history sources, I will outline the key factors— social, medical, political, and bureaucratic—that facilitated the mid-twentieth-century emergence of the white “male homosexual” as a preeminent target of VD control efforts. This shift—away from a primary focus on female prostitutes and “good-time girls”—required a sharp reversal of an earlier view that men who chose male partners did so to protect themselves from the risks of sexually transmitted infections, highlighting the highly contingent nature of beliefs about disease risks and reservoirs.

Deborah Nadal
Dogs as Carriers of Justice: Rabies and social discrimination in rural Western India.

Rabies is endemic in India and so is the burden of casteism on low-ranking communities. Like their human counterpart, (stray) dogs too are abhorred by upper-caste Hinduism as impure and polluting beings, and they are feared as reservoirs of rabies especially when they live in socially and economically marginalised spaces such as urban slums or the defiling outskirts of villages. In Gujarat, the goddess Hadkai Mata is worshipped by some groups as the saviour from rabies and social injustice. Her worship grounds on an alternative understanding and experience of the disease that is symmetrical to that of the rest of society. According to Hadkai Mata’s believers, dogs are not the source of rabies but vectors, through their bites, of the goddess’ benevolent reprimands about the low-caste manners they are trying to get rid of in their much-opposed attempt at upward social mobility. Even though dog bites are feared, the most pious worshippers of this goddess are against mass dog vaccination, as they see it as a dangerous intrusion into her agency. To outsiders, the welcoming attitude of these people towards dogs only proves their intrinsic baseness and reinforces the bias according to which dog-mediated rabies is a disease of moral and physical squalor, both in stray dogs and in sub-human communities.

Maidul Rahaman
Animal Habitation as Disease Reservoirs in British India: Colonial adjustments and maladjustments to the disease reservoirs

The paper makes an attempt to examine the relationship between animal disease and human health. It is fact that diseases of animals and diseases of humans seem to have relatively little connection to each other. Numerous human infectious diseases are caused by agents that are directly or indirectly transmissible from various animal species to humans. Colonial India has suffered from the animal infected diseases that were transmitted from animal to human. According to the Report of the Sanitary Commissioner of Bengal (1868), zoonotic diseases were transmitted from animals to man. David. B. Smith, Sanitary Commissioner observed that the death of many cattle had impoverished the people. A high rate of mortality from zoonotic diseases was liable to affect the human beings. It has been estimated that more than 200 animal diseases were transmitted to the human beings. These diseases were caused by prions, viruses, bacteria (including rickettsiae and chlamydiae), fungi, protozoa, and helminths, as well as arthropods and these were carried by animals. The major diseases viz. rabies, anthrax, tuberculosis, foot and mouth disease and smallpox were directly transmitted to human beings from animals. This paper also emphasises the diseases reservoir by identifying several zoonotic diseases of British India.

Emmanuelle Roth
The ‘Ebola Bat’ Fetish: Virus samplers and disease reservoir research in post-Ebola Guinea

In 2014, scientists made the hypothesis that the West African Ebola outbreak originated in human- bat contact in the southeastern part of Guinea, at a moment when the paradigm of bat species as disease reservoir of filoviruses was being entrenched by new technologies for sampling and modelling. The scientists’ reserve was lifted in press commentaries and the origin story consecrated in the outbreak response, which banned trade and consumption of bushmeat. How has the epidemic and its framing of Ebola as a zoonosis transformed the figure of the bat? This presentation, drawing on an ethnography of bat virus sampling and its sociohistorical embeddedness in Guinea, explores epistemological and ontological shifts in the way Guineans – in particular local scientists and the labourers of viral sampling – interact with bats. In southeastern Guinea, where the bat is not a central agent in economic livelihoods, intimate proximities or myths, I argue that the disease reservoir framing has turned the animal into a kind of fetish, or a ‘factish’ in the words of Bruno Latour, whose dangerousness ‘the moderns’ need ‘the primitives’ to believe in (2010). The presentation shows the relevance of a postcolonial framework for thinking through the temporal intersection of specimen collection and big data surveillance, conservation and biosecurity, and global health and One Health, in disease reservoir research.

Almudena Marí Sáez and Hannah Brown
More-than-human Homes: Spaces and temporalities of the Lassa Fever reservoir

Lassa fever is a rodent borne disease that is endemic in parts of West Africa. The primary host of the virus is the multimammate rat, Mastomys natalensis. M. natalensis is a commensal rodent, and scientists hypothesise that people’s homes are the most important site for the transmission of the virus from rodents to humans. Ethnographic research highlights the multi species nature of domesticity in these settings. Both rodents and humans make their homes in the same spaces, in ways that engage partly overlapping and partly distinct forms of space and time. Attention to the production of domestic spaces from both rodent and human perspectives draws attention to the fact that reservoirs do not exist as backgrounded, inert containers ‘holding’ the virus, but are produced through entangled multi species practices. Paying attention to the spatial and temporal dimensions of the Lassa fever reservoir ethnographically also offers possibilities for reconceptualising the nature of the home as a ‘problem’ space for viral transmission.

Bruno Silva Santos
The Beauty of the Forests and the Dirt of the Cities: An ethnography of the Guarani-Mbya people and rats in the Jaraguá Indigenous Land (São Paulo, Brazil)

This study’s main subjects are the relationships between the Guarani-Mbya people and rats in the Jaraguá Indigenous Land ¬– a small territory surrounded by the city of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest metropolis. This paper describes ethnographically how the Guarani-Mbya perceive and relate to these “companion species”, even though their companionship may sometimes be disturbing or unwanted. According to Guarani-Mbya people, the relationship between the indigenous, non-indigenous, urban rats, and wild rats are linked by the fundamental opposition between pollution and dirt, which are characteristic of non-indigenous cities, and the traditional Guarani-Mbya way of life, which preserves and cares for the forest and its creatures. Through an ethnographic approach to indigenous conceptions on health, illness and disease issues related to rodents, this paper suggests that the Guarani-Mbya people do not conceive rodents as a disease reservoir, and, despite their noisy and messy habits, rats are not framed by them as a zoonotic threat that requires eradication or surveillance. In this way, from the stories that Guarani-Mbya people tell about rats, diseases, non- indigenous people, and cities, emerges a broad indigenous critique of the non-indigenous way of life and its destructive effects to humans, animals and environment.

Karen Sayer
Edges of Disease and Boundary Animals in Agri-Cultural space: Farming the twentieth century

This paper will interrogate the interconnecting roles of science, medicine and technology in ‘modernising’ livestock production after the Second World War. At an empirical level, it will interrogate the notions of intensification and industrialisation of animal farming, (i.e. the social and economic systemics, as well as its technical and institutional components) and the debates that emerged around the health and environmental risks and harms generated by the transformations sought in livestock production after 1947, their governance and repair. While these transformations were highly significant in enabling massive increases in the supply of livestock food at relatively little cost to the consumer, they were also highly controversial on account of new threats that emerged to human health, animal welfare, and the environment. This paper will explore the edges of disease/disease control and the boundary animals (conceived here as these pests, vermin, or livestock hosts of disease) within this agricultural and cultural space, look at the knowledges produced, governance and repair enacted in consequence, and the parts played by science/the image of science and ‘scientific’ farm futures conceived as ‘disease control’ in this process.

Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva
Plague Deserts: Wild rodents, international organizations and the emergence of sylvatic plague (1907-1935)

The concept of sylvatic plague was coined by the Portuguese doctor Ricardo Jorge in 1927 in a global survey on the relationships between wild rodents and plague. Jorge invented it as a counterpoint to the pandemic plague. Although they were caused by the same bacillus, the latter was spread by domestic rats and was prevalent in ports, while the sylvatic plague was conserved by a myriad of wild rodents living in arid landscapes. Since 1927, the new concept became widely used to manage the disease in several countries, such as the US, South Africa, and Brazil. Despite this relevance, the history behind its emergence is barely known, a lacune this paper seeks to fill. It will argue, first, that the concept was a typical product of the international organizations that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as the Office International d’Hygiène Publique (OIHP), which sponsored the global survey. Second, that its invention aimed to foster political and scientific consensus inside the OIHP in establishing a common framework able to connect contrasting local realities. Lastly, that the concept created a second space of international anxieties vis-à-vis the disease, aside from the ports: the plague deserts.

Jules Skotnes-Brown
Rat Reservoirs at Sea: Rats, spaces, and contamination on British and American imperial vessels, 1820s-1920s

Ships have long been regarded as reservoirs of disease that spread pathogens and pestilence across the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. So too were they considered breeding grounds for black and brown rats, who fared on board “better than men do” (TW Higginson, 1870: 487). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, almost every ship was cursed with a healthy population of rats who feasted on its cargo and food supplies. Although several technologies and strategies of rat riddance were employed on board, rat infestations were largely accepted as a ubiquitous fact of maritime life. Some sailors even viewed them as clean, useful animals who could be eaten to ward off hunger and disease. Following the Third Plague Pandemic in the 1890s and the global acceptance of the rat-flea theory in the subsequent decade, such ideas were rapidly overturned. The rat was transformed from an economic, sensory, and spatial nuisance that at times had its uses into a pathogenic object that contaminated anything it touched. Through examining interspecies relations between humans and rats on ships, this paper explores how the framing of the rat as a reservoir of plague provoked a fundamental shift in spatial, sensory, and material relationships between humans, objects, and animals on board. Ultimately, I argue that ridding imperial vessels of rat reservoirs forced seafarers to reconsider the ship and its contents in terms of rodent activities, and fundamentally to restructure the architecture of imperial maritime spaces.

Genese Sodikoff
The Proverbial Reservoir: Moralising with rats in Madagascar’s plague zones

The black rat is the main reservoir of the plague in Madagascar, and in an acutely poor country with weak sanitation infrastructure, rat populations are difficult to control. Since the French colonial era, hygiene campaigns that target households and neighbourhoods have had the counterproductive effect of stigmatizing the plague, especially in urbanized areas. Waste and rats stick to human patients by association. Prior to the plague’s arrival in 1898, however, rats occupied a different place in the moral universe of the central highlands, where Merina people have long integrated a rich variety of traditional proverbs (ohabolana) into everyday conversation. Ohabolana frequently make metaphorical use of commensal animals, such as rats, to condemn certain social behaviors. At times, they provide what Judith Irvine calls a “linguistic cordon sanitaire” that buffers a speaker from toxic effects of direct criticism. I propose that the settlement of plague in the landscape occasioned a cultural spillover in the way rats have been deployed as moral lessons. Historical questions revolve around the extent to which the stigma of plague derives, as many assume, from its association with filth, the lure of rats, or from ideas about the character traits of rats themselves as depicted in proverbs and fables.

Jacob Steer-Williams
Putting Rats on the Map: Plague and anti-epidemic labour in early-twentieth century South Africa

The Third Plague Pandemic came at a time of unprecedented European intrusion onto the bodies and landscapes of indigenous people and spaces across the Global South. The pandemic also erupted at a critical time of change in western public health which saw the rise of both laboratory-based bacteriology and field-based epidemiology, perhaps at their respective heights of cultural authority as the tools of disease surveillance. Scholars have had a lot to say lately about the Third Plague Pandemic, and how it revealed new technologies of surveillance (Lynteris) and incited European panic and insecurity (Peckham). My research, focusing on the extensive archives of the Third Plague Pandemic in the early- twentieth century Cape Colony in South Africa, examines the everyday labour of anti-epidemic control. For this conference, my paper focuses on the epidemiological mapping strategies used by British colonial officials to understand, trace, and substantiate their intrusion onto the bodies and domestic spaces of indigenous Africans. British officials across the Cape Colony mapped not just the incidence of plague cases in humans however, but the location of plague-infected rats and the efforts of anti-epidemic labour– disinfection and destruction. In mapping the non-human reservoirs of plague, and the movement of plague, public health officials were employing new kinds of epidemiological, and epistemological knowledge-making processes about the ecology of disease.

Nükhet Varlik
Searching for Rodents in Ottoman History

In this presentation, I will share my preliminary research for locating different species of wild rodents in Ottoman history and questioning the limits of evidence in searching for these animals whose populations are nearly depleted today in the post-Ottoman regions. I will discuss different types of evidence, including archival and narrative sources, literature, art, and zooarchaeological remains that shed light on different aspects of rodents’ past existence. For example, in visual sources, wild rodents mainly figure for their use as furs. Similarly, archival documents also mention wild rodents primarily in the context of fur trade, occasionally supplying information about the types, color, and quantities of fur. These sources make possible to make some observations about the species of wild rodents, as well as their spatial distribution and population in the past. Zooarcheological evidence from the Ottoman period, though scarce, also supply additional information for identifying their species. Narratives sources and literature, however, help diversify wild and commensal rodents as epistemic objects, beyond the economic value of their fur, and perhaps even reconstruct rodents as historical actors.

Emily Webster
A Plague on the Land, on the Sea, and in the Sewers: Yersinia pestis and the genus Rattus in Bombay, India

Historians have gained much traction on the intersection of biopolitical control, colonial medicine, and empire in examinations of the plague in India, and particularly in Bombay. David Arnold labeled the measures enacted in India against plague – most of which were modelled after the original measures in Bombay – “A new interventionism,” marking the increasing invasion of imperial order into the homes and bodies of Bombay’s Indian residents. These unprecedented laws reorganized the geography of biopolitics in the city. Before the outbreak of plague, interfaces of the municipal government and the colonial body occurred at an impersonal scale – through the regulation of municipal sanitary practice, workplace conditions, and urban space; after, the individual body became the focus of imperial attention and action. Bombay’s lower classes found themselves prodded, examined, detained and inoculated by representatives of sanitary structures. Their skin, flesh, and immune systems became sites of imperial regulation. Geographic changes also occurred across ecological scales, affecting both humans and nonhumans. The reorganization of people on the Island promoted distinct changes in population geography, inciting sanitary challenges; meanwhile, at the local level, cleansing and disinfecting practices coupled with slum clearances destroyed the habitats of both human and nonhuman residents. As an etiology of plague that included rats gained popularity among the British medical community, rats also fell under the biopolitical gaze of the colonial government. Across India, experiments arose that subsumed rats into the colonial medical infrastructure and transformed them from commensal nuisances to vectors of disease. Plague measures transformed the position of rats in the city, both symbolically and literally. Sanitary measures resulted in the displacement and destruction of habitat for rats, placing fleas and their resident microbe, Yersinia pestis, into closer contact with uninfected humans, and created new habitats that suited rat populations in the form of internment camps. Drawing on Gregg Mitman’s framework, “ecologies of injustice,” along with niche construction theory, this talk explores how human and rat demography changed as a result of the plague epidemic, and how the emergence of the rat-flea theory as the dominant epistemology in the early twentieth century changed the position of humans, rats, fleas, and Yersinia pestis in the city and across India