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Tropical Neurasthenia and Leprosy Asylums

The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences has just posted two forthcoming articles on its website. Anna Crozier (pictured left), of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, has written on the history of tropical neurasthenia in British East Africa. In “What Was Tropical about Tropical Neurasthenia? The Utility of the Diagnosis in the Management of British East Africa,” Crozier explores the diagnosis of tropical neurasthenia in the early twentieth century. The abstract reads,

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, tropical neurasthenia was a popular diagnosis for a nervous condition experienced by Europeans in the topics. Tropical neurasthenia was not psychosis or madness, but was rather an ennui or loss of “edge” brought about by the strains of tropical life, especially the unfamiliar, hot climate. A catch-all for a wide range of symptoms, many missionaries, colonial staff, and settlers throughout Empire were repatriated because of it, although this article concentrates on Colonial Service employees working in British East Africa. While histories of tropical neurasthenia have usefully (and correctly) explained this diagnosis as an expression of the anxieties of the colonial regime, this article adds a new dimension to the historiography by arguing that tropical neurasthenia can only be properly understood as a hybrid form, dependent not only upon the peculiarities of the colonial situation, but also descended from British and American clinical understandings of neurasthenia. Continue reading Tropical Neurasthenia and Leprosy Asylums

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