Surveillance, scale and the mapping of public health in colonial India, 1907-1939

Year of award: 2022


  • Dr Philip Jagessar

    No Organisation

Project summary

Covid-19 has brought to public attention the importance of maps in health research and surveillance today. However, the colonial origins of public health mapping is less well understood, although scholars have increasingly acknowledged that colonies were important testing grounds for modern medical science. The proposed project concretely establishes the colonial heritage of modern public health mapping through an in-depth archival study into the cartographic surveillance work of the Public Health Commissioner (PHC) in British India. Public health mapping became routine and systematised under the PHC in the early 20th century, and the project addresses for the first time how their India-wide health and disease maps were made, used and circulated in India and beyond. The practices, infrastructures and political considerations which informed the creation, use and circulation of disease and health maps in India depended on the integration of different scales of surveillance and mapping. The provincial public health agencies were responsible for gathering the data which the PHC then converted into India-wide maps. The project then considers the importance of the PHC's mapping and mapmaking to the international proliferation of public health surveillance in the interwar period through their working relationship with the League of Nations Health Organisation.