The Chemical Empire: a new history of synthetic insecticides in Britain and its colonies, c1920–1970 


  • Dr Sabine Clarke

    University of York

Project summary

The harmful effects of the pesticide DDT first received widespread attention in 1962 after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. We know surprisingly little about the history of the use of DDT in Britain and the British colonies before this point and our knowledge about DDT relies heavily on the history of insecticides in American farming and the World Health Organization’s malaria eradication programmes.  

We will explore how Britain used insecticides on its farms and in its colonies. It will show the different ways in which insecticides were used in agriculture compared with disease control during and after World War II. 

We will consider how the effects of insecticides on health are shaped by the context in which they are used and how the context depends on wider cultural, economic, political and technical factors.