Philippe Bourmaud: Assessing Infectious Risks in Late Ottoman Jerusalem | 6 March 2017


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Jerusalem was a focus of medical attention from the 19th century onwards. This was for reasons owing more to religious and touristic imagination - and later growing flows of immigration - than to epidemiological reasons. One feature of the knowledge of health and healthcare was that it largely followed communal patterns of social organization. Infectious diseases were viewed as hazards that straddled the city, known through communal data (for instance through the reports of denominational hospitals and dispensaries) that often created a hierarchization of communities according to criteria of hygiene. However, the second constitutional period, starting in 1908, marked a shift towards the development of inter-communal public health policy. Communal patterns of health policy-making potentially led to preferences a more intensified effort to fight diseases that weighed more severely on migrants or diseases whose etiology was linked with local poverty. The end of the Ottoman period and especially the first few years of the British occupation of Jerusalem saw the development of inter-communal cooperation between Jews and Arabs. But did that mean that priorities were assigned first and foremost according to a consideration of infectious risks across the board? I will argue that health policy making followed a colonial pattern of decision-making, through a dialogue effectively confined to British authorities and the main Zionist medical organizations, especially Hadassah, resulting in public health policies prioritizing the concerns of immigrants. Jerusalem remained the major Palestinian healthcare centre, but the focus of public health shifted from its medical institutions to ports and rural sites of infection that were pivotal in Zionist colonization and ideology. About the Speaker: Philippe Bourmaud is a historian of the Ottoman and Mandatory Middle East, based at Istanbul. His researches focus on the history of the medical profession in the Ottoman Empire, the history of indicators and the history of public health and social problems. His current project focuses on the construction of public problems (especially tuberculosis and addictions) from the Second constitutional period of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle Eastern Mandates.

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