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Imperial Nightmares: The British Image of 'the deadly climate' of West Africa, c. 1840-74

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In the first half of the ninteenth century West Africa became associated with the term 'white man's grave'. This was mostly due to the extremely high European mortality rates resulting from endemic disease, especially malaria. The second half of the nineteenth century is usually described as the birth of tropical medicine, which indicates a development in scientific medicine partially attributed to the empirical experiences of the mid-century. The treatment and prevention of the above-mentioned disease changed substantially in the period. This article discusses the public perception of West Africa in the years between the Niger Expedition in 1841 and the Ashanti campaign in 1874. The two events, which mark the chronological framework of the paper, both played a significant part in the history of malaria as much as in the history of British imperial expansion in the region. Using mostly contemporary printed works, it is argued that despite the development that occurred in the field of medicine and subsequent decline in European mortality, the associated image of 'the deadly climate' of West Africa prevailed between the two events for a variety of political, economic and cultural causes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2001

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