Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 241–259 | Cite as

Postcolonial Ecologies of Parasite and Host: Making Parasitism Cosmopolitan

  • Warwick Anderson


The interest of F. Macfarlane Burnet in host–parasite interactions grew through the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in his book, Biological Aspects of Infectious Disease (1940), often regarded as the founding text of disease ecology. Our knowledge of the influences on Burnet’s ecological thinking is still incomplete. Burnet later attributed much of his conceptual development to his reading of British theoretical biology, especially the work of Julian Huxley and Charles Elton, and regretted he did not study Theobald Smith’s Parasitism and Disease (1934) until after he had formulated his ideas. Scholars also have adduced Burnet’s fascination with natural history and the clinical and public health demands on his research effort, among other influences. I want to consider here additional contributions to Burnet’s ecological thinking, focusing on his intellectual milieu, placing his research in a settler society with exceptional expertise in environmental studies and pest management. In part, an ‘‘ecological turn’’ in Australian science in the 1930s, derived to a degree from British colonial scientific investments, shaped Burnet’s conceptual development. This raises the question of whether we might characterize, in postcolonial fashion, disease ecology, and other studies of parasitism, as successful settler colonial or dominion science.


Disease ecology Animal ecology Environmental science Burnet Colonial science Parasite Epidemiology Comparative pathology Population biology  


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, SOPHIUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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