Debating scientific medicine: Homoeopathy and allopathy in late nineteenth century medical print in Bengal

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The historiography of medicine in South Asia often assumes the presence of preordained, homogenous, coherent and clearly-bound medical systems. They also tend to take the existence of a medical ‘mainstream’ for granted. This article argues that the idea of an ‘orthodox’, ‘mainstream’ named allopathy and one of its ‘alternatives’ homoeopathy were co-produced in Bengal. It emphasises the role of the supposed ‘fringe’, ie. homoeopathy, in identifying and organising the ‘orthodoxy’ of the time. The shared market for medicine and print provided a crucial platform where such binary identities such as ‘homoeopaths’ and ‘allopaths’ were constituted and reinforced. This article focuses on a range of polemical writings by physicians in the Bengali print market since the 1860s. Published mostly in late nineteenth-century popular medical journals, these concerned the nature, definition and scope of ‘scientific’ medicine. The article highlights these published disputes and critical correspondence among physicians as instrumental in simultaneously shaping the categories ‘allopathy’ and ‘homoeopathy’ in Bengali print. It unravels how contemporary understandings of race, culture and nationalism informed these medical discussions. It further explores the status of these medical contestations, often self-consciously termed ‘debates’, as an essential contemporary trope in discussing ‘science’ in the vernacular.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-480
Number of pages18
JournalMedical History
Issue number4
Early online date24 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

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