Department of History

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Freddie Stephenson

PhD Candidate,



I studied Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester (2011-2014), before moving to the University of Nottingham for my Masters degree in History (2014-2015). I received funding from the Institute of Asia Pacific Studies to commence my Ph.D at Nottingham University in September 2015, under the supervision of Dr Sascha Auerbach and Dr Anna Greenwood.

Research Summary

My doctoral research explores the relationship between liberal governance, race and (semi)colonialism through the urban and medical topography in Hong Kong and Shanghai, c. 1858-1911. In the light of… read more

Current Research

My doctoral research explores the relationship between liberal governance, race and (semi)colonialism through the urban and medical topography in Hong Kong and Shanghai, c. 1858-1911. In the light of contemporary developments in the metropole, it examines the way imperial spaces were selectively celebrated, as salubrious showcases of imperial progress, or ignored, as worrisome pathological enclaves. Metropolitan imperatives did not simply translate to Britain's imperial presence in East Asia. Instead, as British imperial history repeatedly shows, race and the differential power equation of empire shaped how both Hong Kong and Shanghai developed.

The project seeks to identify why notions of health and order - expressed in medical knowledge, public health administration and philanthropy, alongside urban space and form - often failed to traverse the British Empire. It also seeks to chart how British sojourners implemented these programs in view of revealing their relationship with the economically powerful Chinese communities and their retrospective ideas about medicine and space. One of the most stimulating aspects of the project will elaborate why these two port cities witnessed distinct paths to become more modern, healthy spaces. This will provide insight into the varying nature of British imperialism and indeed the distinctive manifestations of imperialism within the Sinosphere. It was partly these distinctions between colonial and semi-colonial that engendered the differential forms of public health in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Interestingly the informal empire surrounding the latter fostered a more robust program of public health for both Europeans and Chinese.

Within the history of medicine, the project focuses on a key period in the development of modern medicine, punctuated by the discovery of the plague bacillus by Alexandre Yersin in the traumatic Hong Kong summer of 1894. Nineteenth century medical wisdom wavered between contagionist and miasmatist conceptions of disease transmission. Miasmatism, the belief that noxious gases caused disease, led colonial officials and medical practitioners in justifying intervention or inaction in the realm of public health. Even as bacteriology expanded in the late century, closely followed by 'scientific' race theory, both approaches would mesh with earlier disease theory and, most of all, a pejorative discourse of dirt and danger toward the native Chinese population. By the turn of the century, Britain had founded the world's first Schools of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, then London. China has generally been neglected in the history of tropical medicine, yet the accounts of medical men working in these colonial cities envision themselves at the heart of the unfolding discipline. The project will not only address this gap in the field, it also allows for the exploration of two distinct cultural approaches to health, and, in doing so, further interrogates the nature of medical knowledge, practice, and authority in the period.

Between the "wilderness of marshes" of Shanghai and the "barren rock" of Hong Kong Island, the two locales created specific issues of environment health. The marshland surrounding Shanghai created the need for drainage and hospitals for vaccination, as malaria was a serious problem. Hong Kong Island, with its generally infertile soil and mountainous terrain presented different problems, like the intense desire to make the island more beautiful and salubrious by planting trees. As in many colonial cities bogus justifications of pathological natives brought about segregation, though they also contributed to gardens, specialised architecture, and urban design. The Peak in Hong Kong, for instance, was reserved for European residents as a temperate bastion within the sub-tropical colony. The relatively small area of land available throughout the colony for building also placed a premium on space. Though traditional Chinese dwellings, like the Shophouse or matshed, could absorb high levels of urban density - overcrowding and insanitary conditions were nonetheless a major problem. The same was true in Shanghai's walled city, yet lacking sovereignty and thus responsibility over these Chinese, the Shanghailander community had to negotiate with other municipal bodies to accomplish urban sanitary reform outside their concessions. By tracing the above in the documents of the colonial government and accounts from local doctors, sojourners, and natives, the research will reveal significant insights into British imperial history, modern Chinese history, and medical history.

Past Research

My MA thesis was entitled "Law, Order and Containment in Colonial Hong Kong, c. 1875-1882." My undergraduate dissertation was entitled "Foreign Attitudes to Militarism in Republican China under the Warlords and Guomindang, 1920-1945."

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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