Ottoman Innovation in Maritime Fumigation for Plague Control

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


The late Ottoman Empire is often represented as a scientifically and technologically moribund state, and thus unfavourably compared to Western European powers at the turn of the nineteenth century. This paper challenges this position by focusing on late Ottoman innovation in the control of infectious diseases, and in particular plague. The paper will show that Ottoman approaches of plague and its mode of transmission played a key role in renegotiating the role of quarantine as a method of epidemic control during the initial years of the third plague pandemic. Moreover, it will demonstrate how Ottoman innovation in the field of disinfection (Apery’s carbon dioxide process; 1899-1900) set the ground for a cross-European debate on maritime fumigation as an alternative to trade-damaging quarantine, thus leading the path for several decades of intensive experimentation with different chemical gases aimed at achieving the triple goal of killing rats, fleas, and bacteria in the hold of cargo-bearing ships. Focusing on the entanglement of political, epistemological and technological aspects of innovation in the Ottoman empire, the paper will emphasise the importance of going beyond traditional frameworks of colonial history for achieving a global perspective of the relation between medicine, science an empire.
Period31 May 2019
Held atEdinburgh University, United Kingdom