, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 190–203 | Cite as

Pasteurian tropical medicine and colonial scientific vision

  • Branwyn PoleykettEmail author
Original Article


The Pasteurian scientist Charles Nicolle spent most of his scientific career at the Institut Pasteur de Tunis. He produced an idiosyncratic archive exploring questions of scientific genius and his concern with the ‘traps’ set by scientific rationality. This paper considers the major visual themes of Nicolle’s diverse archive—myopia, exposure and illumination—as elements of colonial scientific visuality. I then consider this way of seeing in relation to the mass of medical photographs and scientific images circulating in Pasteurian publications. I argue that as well as indexing and demonstrating colonial scientific rationality these images encode the hidden, shadowy, indeterminate and esoteric forms of colonial scientific knowledge, a negative poetics, in addition to their public status as colonial, communicative, technological and epistemic instruments.


Medical photography Institut Pasteur Subjectivity Visuality 



The author acknowledges the support from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 336564. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of this paper for their comments which greatly improved the final draft. I am particularly grateful to the reviewers for encouraging me to reconsider the reproduction of the photographs under discussion.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CRASSHUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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