‘Back to the Jungle’: Scrub Typhus, Plantations, and Disease Ecology in Colonial Malaya

Med Hum_Plantation
23 Aug 2022 02.30 PM - 04.30 PM SHHK Conference Room (SHHK-05-57) Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Michelle Chiang

Between 1924 and the Second World War, a string of cases of ‘tropical’ or ‘scrub' typhus broke out in the Federated Malay States. The disease was appearing on plantations — of rubber, but especially of the rapidly developing palm-oil industry. For medical researchers in the colony, these cases prompted discussions of the roles of rats, grasses, labour, and plantations in the disease’s epidemiology — in ways that would connect, I argue, interwar medical research and postwar ecologies of disease. This history shall be traced in this talk, which in the process traverses the ears of rodents, decaying Selangor and Sumatran plantations, an island of rats, and 1970s San Francisco.


Jack Greatrex is a Research Fellow in the History Department at Nanyang Technological University.