Epidemics and the Telegraphic World
In Chapter 6, “Panic Encabled: Epidemics and the Telegraphic World,” Robert Peckham considers how telegraphy shaped responses to and influenced the management of epidemics in the 1890s, a period that saw the institutionalization of laboratory science, the development of an epidemiologically based public health, as well as the “unification” of the globe by cable. Although the transformative roles of new technologies (such as steam-powered ships, railways, and the telegraph) are often cited in relation to transnational mobility and the proliferating networks that characterized empire, to date there has been little study made of the telegraph as a tool in the surveillance of infectious disease, and to its role in “empire’s reterritorializing power.” Focusing on outbreaks of influenza in the metropole and the bubonic plague in the crown colony of Hong Kong, Peckham investigates the uses made of the telegraph as a means of collecting and disseminating information about infectious disease, as well as the impact of condensed “telegraphic speech” on official discourse.
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