Endemic Colonialism: Sovereignty, Public Health, and Pandemic in Pre-Soviet Bukhara

Event Format
In person
Tsai Auditorium (S010), CGIS South ,1730 Cambridge Street

In 1889, a mysterious illness devastated the Central Asian emirate of Bukhara, wiping out five percent of the population before spreading throughout the globe. Three years later, tragedy struck again, this time in the form of an empire-wide cholera epidemic. On paper, Bukhara was legally an independent country, despite having signed away some of its sovereign rights (particularly foreign policy) to the Russian Empire. However, these two pandemics played a crucial role in drawing Bukhara closer into the colonial orbit, making it function more like a colonial province and less like a sovereign Islamic state. This presentation examines the mutually constitutive relationship between colonialism and public health in the context of indirect rule. It considers questions of etiology (what in fact was the "Russian influenza" of 1889?), assesses the impact of Russian health policies on Islamic medicine, and traces the emergence of ideas of sanitation and public health in Persianate cultures of documentation. Ultimately, it seeks to demonstrate that Bukhara's "semi-colonial" status rested not only on formal treaties but equally on quotidian, informal protocols made out of expediency and in reaction to "states of exception."

Time Period


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