James L. Hevia, Department of History, University of Chicago
“Surra and the Emergence of Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Colonial India”
Between 1880 and the first decade of the twentieth century, veterinary medicine in India underwent a profound change. Emphasis shifted from the treatment of diseases affecting domestic animals, such as rinderpest. The new focus was on diseases that threatened to undermine a centerpiece of the British imperial security regime, pack animal transport – built, as it was, around camel, mule, donkey, and pony laborers. At the forefront of such concerns was surra, a blood disease caused by a parasite in the trypanosome family. In addition to attacking cavalry horses, it was the single main cause of death among the animals in army transport.
This paper explores the process by which veterinary medicine became militarized, and transformed by germ theory and bacteriology. It will also demonstrate how events in India were explicitly linked to the emerging field of tropical veterinary medicine, bringing Indian army veterinary surgeons into dialogues with counterparts in colonial Southeast Asia and in French and German colonies in Africa.