Leprosy beyond the Local: The Creation of International Research Communities

Friday, January 6, 2012: 3:30 PM
Superior Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Magnus Vollset, Universitetet i Bergen
Leprosy beyond the local: The creation of international research communities

Why were similar leprosy policies put in place in different localities around the globe at roughly the same time? Some of the answer can be found in the conscious efforts by leprosy researchers to establish infrastructures for international collaboration and knowledge transfers in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

This paper will outline the foundations for the international leprosy conferences (Berlin 1897, Bergen 1909, Strasbourg 1923); the specialized medical journal Lepra Biblioetica Internationalis (1900-1914); the League of Nations Leprosy Commission (1925-1940); and the International Journal for Leprosy and other Mycobacterial Diseases (1933-2005). It will show that these were all parts of a shared effort to create an international research community for exchanges of medical knowledge concerning leprosy.

The paper will argue that medical rationale behind much of the medical practices which took place on local levels cannot be reduced to the local or the national. Rather, these research communities created shared contexts and worked to unify local practices. However, radically different disease concepts were competing for hegemony; not all knowledge moved beyond the local or the national; and not all researchers participated in the same arenas. Additionally, researchers were selective when they adopted i.e. the recommendations from the international leprosy conferences and used them in arguments for state leprosy policies.

In addition to sources from achieves, journals and reports, the paper will draw on historiographical arguments made by a.o. James Secord (Knowledge in Transit', Isis, 2004), Peter Galison (‘Ten Problems in History and Philosophy of Science’, Isis, 2008) and Sanjoy Bhattacharya (‘Medicine’, Pallgrave dictionary of Transnational history, 2009).

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