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Palgrave Macmillan

Medical Missionaries and Colonial Knowledge in West Africa and Europe, 1885-1914

Purity, Health and Cleanliness

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  • Open Access
  • © 2023

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  • Offers an entangled history of hygiene between West Africa and Europe during the age of High Imperialism
  • Highlights the role of medical missionaries in the formation of tropical medicine as a scientific discipline
  • Combines religious, scientific and colonial history to analyse the genealogy of modern-day hygiene
  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access.

Part of the book series: Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies (CIPCSS)

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About this book

This open access book offers an entangled history of hygiene by showing how knowledge of purity, health and cleanliness was shaped by evangelical medical missionaries and their encounters with people in West Africa. By tracing the interactions and negotiations of six Basel Mission doctors, who practised on the Gold Coast and in Cameroon from 1885 to 1914, the author demonstrates how notions of religious purity, scientific health and colonial cleanliness came together in the making of hygiene during the age of High Imperialism. The heyday of evangelical medical missions abroad coincided with the emergence of tropical medicine as a scientific discipline during what became known as the Scramble for Africa. This book reveals that these projects were intertwined and that hygiene played an important role in all three of them. While most historians have examined modern hygiene as a European, bourgeois and scientific phenomenon, the author highlights both the colonial and the religious fabric of hygiene, which continues to shape our understanding of purity, health and cleanliness to this day.


Table of contents (11 chapters)

  1. Spaces of Knowledge and Meanings of Hygiene in the Nineteenth Century

  2. Negotiations of Hygiene “on the Margins” 1885–1914

  3. Reverberations of Hygiene 1885–1914


Linda Ratschiller Nasim’s impressive study breaks new ground by reconstructing entangled histories of evangelicalism, scientific medicine, and colonialism in the making of hygiene in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It demonstrates how hygiene has held a special place in the imagination of Africa and continues to shape conceptions of self and other in European societies to this day. Drawing upon a rich case study of the influential Basel mission in West Africa, this engaging book is essential reading for those interested in the intersecting histories of medicine and scientific endeavour, mission and empire, and culture and society in West Africa." 

 David Maxwell, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastic History, University of Cambridge

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Contemporary History, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland

    Linda Maria Ratschiller Nasim

About the author

Linda Maria Ratschiller Nasim is a Postdoctoral Researcher and teaching Fellow at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Previously, she studied History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, and Contemporary History at the University of Fribourg.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Medical Missionaries and Colonial Knowledge in West Africa and Europe, 1885-1914

  • Book Subtitle: Purity, Health and Cleanliness

  • Authors: Linda Maria Ratschiller Nasim

  • Series Title: Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-27127-4Published: 03 November 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-27130-4Due: 04 December 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-27128-1Published: 02 November 2023

  • Series ISSN: 2635-1633

  • Series E-ISSN: 2635-1641

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XVIII, 454

  • Number of Illustrations: 9 b/w illustrations, 5 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Imperialism and Colonialism, African History, History of Medicine, History of Religion, History of Germany and Central Europe

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