The Plague in Madras: The Making of an “Immune” City

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


In 1912, the Lancet published an article titled “The City of Madras and its immunity from epidemic plague.” The Lancet’s article was part of a spate of investigations by sanitary officials, bacteriologists, and epidemiologists into the reasons as to why the city remained largely free from the plague pandemic, which hit colonial India especially hard in the latter half of the 1890s. The absent epidemic in Madras suggests new ways to understand plague in colonial India and the relationship between the etiology of epidemics and cities more broadly. Colonial officials assumed that the plague would affect Madras in a similar fashion to the deadly outbreaks in Bombay and Hong Kong. The article follows varied explanations for the absence of the plague, showing how tropical environments were hardly inherently vulnerable to disease. Rather, the disease was constituted in specific urban environments, which had implications on understanding of disease vulnerability and immunity.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationJournal of Urban History
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2023


  • Madras city
  • colonial India
  • epidemic
  • plague
  • urban environment


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