London School of Tropical Medicine

Date: 1910
Owner: Wellcome Library, London
Source Type: Images


This 1910 photograph shows several British scientists working in a large laboratory in the London School of Tropical Medicine. The school was founded in 1899 by Sir Patrick Manson (who is often seen as the father of modern tropical medicine), as an institution focusing on the many diseases that, by the late nineteenth century, had been relegated to the status of "tropical." In Britain, and, to a lesser degree, France and Germany, the study of tropical medicine emerged as field that focused on typically tropical maladies but had its intellectual center in Europe. The spread of European empires to tropical regions like India, Southeast Asia, and Africa, as well as neo-colonial interests in South America, encouraged European scientists to find new ways of treating these diseases and preventing their spread.

Since the early colonial period, the tropical climate itself was blamed for degenerating the health of its inhabitants, but by the mid nineteenth century, the environment had been discounted as a legitimate cause of sickness. Instead, European experts began to attribute conditions like yellow fever and malaria to poor sanitation. The fact that this paradigm shift occurred concurrently with a sharp decline in mortality rates in Northern Europe and the United States encouraged Europeans to draw a definitive distinction between "tropical diseases" and the less harmful illnesses found in more sanitary countries with temperate climates.

The laboratory pictured here is from the school's first location at the Albert Dock Hospital. In the 1920s, after receiving a two million dollar grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the school expanded to encompass both tropical medicine and general public hygiene, both of which were important foci of the RF.

Reference: Stepan, Nancy Leys. Picturing Tropical Nature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.

CITATION: Laboratory at the London School of Tropical Medicine at the Albert Dock Hospital (Seamen?s Hospital Society). From: Royal Society of tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. L0026996