First Advisor

Jennifer Tappan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Sanitation, Public Health, India, Australia, British Colonialism




Specific colonial processes informed highly distinct policies of public health and sanitation in colonial India and Australia. Their distinctions and lasting legacies are obscured when they are uncritically lumped together within the British Empire. The 19th century was a period of great change throughout India and Australia. It was also a period of dramatic change in general understandings of sanitation and health. This paper examines colonial India and Australia through the lens of sanitation and medicine as it was understood and practiced in British spheres of influence. A comparative approach to these histories and this past sheds light on how colonization influenced developments in science and medicine. This approach also shows how sanitation and public health in turn shaped distinct processes of colonization. The territorial colonization of India fostered an alternate understanding and goal of health than that of settler-colonial Australia. Reviewing the histories of these spaces reveals that colonialism, medical theory and practice, and the foundations of biological distinctions of race are intrinsically related. Germ theory and social metaphors of health were utilized and understood differently within the two separate forms of colonialism. Processes of colonization were in turn shaped by developments in these areas as they experienced changes separate from the metropole. Through a sanitary lens, it becomes clear that these aspects of colonial and imperial history are crucial to the understanding of both the processes of colonialism and its greater legacies.


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