Discovery (ies) and Disease: Colonial Conquest and Indigenous Communities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans

Poonam Bala's picture
Call for Papers
December 7, 2020
United States
Subject Fields: 
Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Local History, Maritime History / Studies, Social History / Studies


Colonial encounters and interactions between indigenous and western medicine under colonial imperatives were often characterized by contestation, negotiations and accommodation of knowledge and ideologies that would eventually (re)define both imperial and indigenous identities. In understanding these processes in the context of trans-national and trans-oceanic perspectives, the social and cultural interactions facilitated contacts between the communities, at the same time symbolising cultural and historical spaces within which were defined various social and cultural integrations. In this respect, the concomitant rise of empires exhibited a well-defined unity of land and sea wherein the ‘maritime communities brought, for instance, ‘Asia to the shores of Africa’ (A.Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean), establishing new social and cultural fields. A significant impact was seen in the trans-oceanic exchanges across the Atlantic when the exchange of plants and animals also meant exporting of several infectious diseases to the New World; this led to a ‘mass destruction’ of the indigenous peoples with more vulnerability to the new diseases (A.W.Crosby in The Columbian Exchange). 

In his book, Plagues and Peoples (reprint 1994), William MacNeill identified a period what he labelled, Transoceanic Exchanges 1500-1700, as a critical period of contact which saw in the gradual introduction of diseases to “New World” societies to which many  offered little or no resistance at all. The introduction of disease brought about by colonial contact orchestrated the social, economic and political collapse of long-standing indigenous structures, which facilitated colonial conquest. In this respect, Mark Harrison’s book (Contagion, 2012) brings out the affinity between commerce and contagion which facilitated the spread of disease from Europe to indigenous communities it conquered and traded with. Instead of focusing on the Atlantic Ocean and the established commercial routes that existed in that region, the focus in this volume shifts towards the Indian and Pacific Oceans, to examine how colonial contact accelerated the introduction and spread of disease among individuals and small communities that occupied coastal regions, islands and countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

We invite chapter contributions that will show how local or micro-coastal communities and island indigenous communities located within the vast regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans were affected by disease following a period of frequent colonial contact and conquest during the period of “trans-oceanic exchanges” between Europe and indigenous societies. The intention is to establish the long-term impact of disease on people and populations within micro-communities and promote the genre of microhistory and medical catastrophes as initiated by colonial conquest since the 17th century and beyond.

Drawing from studies on empires, colonial encounters, literary scholarship, maritime histories, littoral communities and transoceanic exchanges, we are seeking chapter contributions on the following themes, but not limited to these:

Historiography, Epidemics, Demise and Depopulation of indigenous communities, medicine, physicians and disease, role of Indigenous medicine (s) and medical practice, Navigation and travel writing, Trade, Commerce and Contagion, Littoral communities and impact of trade, Seas as historic and social units.

This volume is edited by Poonam Bala (Cleveland State University/ University of South Africa) and Russel Viljoen (University of South Africa). 

Abstracts of 350 words should be sent to  by 

7 December 2020 along with a brief resume.

Contributors will be notified of preliminary acceptance of their abstracts by 4 January 2020. Complete chapter contributions will be due by 1 May 2020. 







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