Colonial science or science in a colonial context? : The control and investigation of cattle disease in colonial India, c.1860-1910

  • Christopher Gill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the differences between the strategies adopted to control the cattle disease rinderpest in colonial India and Britain, and the trajectory of research into animal diseases. By so doing it contributes to debates surrounding the veracity of the notion that 'colonial science' was a distinctive entity with unique characteristics which set it apart from science practiced in a non-colonial context. The colonial authorities in India responded less energetically to rinderpest than the government in Britain and colonial scientists attributed the failure to introduce stringent measures in India to differences between the culture and disease environments of the two countries. However, this thesis will show that infrastructural weaknesses of the veterinary administration posed the main barrier. It thus identifies a strong link between veterinary medicine and the state in the sense that colonial veterinarians provided a scientific justification for the failure of the state to engage with the veterinary needs of indigenous cattle owners. It also identifies a more practical link between veterinary medicine and the state, and shows that veterinary medicine was geared towards the needs of the military as late as the turn of the century. However, this thesis demonstrates that the trajectory of veterinary policy was not shaped by its colonial provenance alone, and that an exclusive focus on the dimensions which were shaped by the imperatives of the state leads to the portrayal of the colonial authorities as more convinced of the value of veterinary science as a 'tool of empire' than they usually were. It further outlines important commonalities between disease control policy in colonial and non-colonial contexts and shows that while the measures adopted in Britain and India were very different, in both cases debates over how rinderpest should be controlled centred on the financial feasibility of intervention. This thesis further shows that the notion that colonial science was universally derivative and instrumentalist and consequently devoid of theoretical substance constitutes a potentially misleading generalisation. In certain contexts and at certain times colonial scientists deferred to metropolitan scientific authorities. However, a certain degree of autonomy can be discerned as early as the 1890s in the context of research into equine diseases. Similarly, the colonial authorities' demands for practical results did not always impede the production of scientific knowledge and result-oriented and curiosity-oriented research were not fundamentally or universally incompatible.
Date of Award22 Jan 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde

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