Biography and Homoeopathy in Bengal: Colonial Lives of a European Heterodoxy

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Abstract

Despite being recognized as a significant literary mode in understanding the advent of the modern self, biographies as a genre have received relatively little attention from South Asian historians. Likewise, histories of science and healing in British India have largely ignored the colonial trajectories of those sectarian, dissenting, supposedly pseudo-sciences and medical heterodoxies that have flourished in Europe since the late eighteenth century. This article addresses these gaps in the historiography to identify biographies as a principal mode through which an incipient, ‘heterodox’ Western science like homoeopathy could consolidate and sustain itself in Bengal. In recovering the cultural history of a category that the state archives render largely invisible, this article argues that biographies are more than a mere repository of individual lives, and in fact are a veritable site of power. In bringing histories of print and publishing, histories of medicine, and histories of life writing practices together, it pursues two broad themes: first, it analyses the sociocultural strategies and networks by which scientific doctrines and concepts are translated across cultural borders. It explores the relation between medical commerce, print capital, and therapeutic knowledge to illustrate that acculturation of medical science necessarily drew upon and reinforced local constellations of class, kinship, and religion. Second, it simultaneously reflects upon the expanding genre of homoeopathic biographies published since the mid-nineteenth century: on their features, relevance, and functions, examining in particular the contemporary status of biography vis-à-vis ‘history’ in writing objective pasts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1732-1771
JournalModern Asian Studies
Volume49
Issue number6
Early online date8 Apr 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

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