Biological Infrastructures and Interimperial Politics: The Case of Yellow Fever

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 2:30 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Aro Velmet, University of Oxford
In the 1920s and 1930s, both the American Rockefeller Foundation and the French Pasteur Institute set up laboratories in West Africa to study yellow fever. These laboratories, like the rival empires, in which they were based, were intensely competitive, both seeking to be the first to develop a vaccine for the deadly disease, and reap the associated rewards. Yet in both laboratories, researchers faced similar problems: how to maintain live cultures of the virus long enough for it to be transported to better equipped sites in Paris, London, or New York. If the virus could be cultivated in animals, then which animals would suit best? This paper uncovers the animal infrastructures that both American and French researchers needed to study the yellow fever virus, and shows how the need to cultivate and transport the virus in animals led to unexpected inter-imperial cooperation. As the yellow fever virus was transported from human bodies to the bodies of rhesus monkeys and then to the bodies of lab mice, the scientific and political possibilities of the yellow fever research agenda were also transformed.
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