Vermin Landscapes: Suffolk, England, Shaped by Plague, Rat and Flea (1906–1920)

  • Karen SayerEmail author
Part of the Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Modern History book series (MBSMH)


This chapter brings together the approaches of animal history, animal geography and the cultural history of science to address the discursive, aesthetic formation, circulation and power of expert knowledge at the beginning of the twentieth century. Taking as its case study an outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague in Suffolk (1906–1918) it considers the framing of rats as enemies to hygiene and to human health in Britain. This encompasses the application of the large-scale research methods developed in India during the Third Plague Pandemic, via the Lister Institute and the Advisory Committee on Plague of the India Office, in Ipswich, Suffolk (a British provincial city connected to national and imperial trade and knowledge networks) and its rural hinterland. Drawing on archival sources (Rural District Council records and investigators’ letters) and printed primary sources including postcards and travel narratives, discussion of the findings associated with this investigation in the popular and medical press, and British Parliamentary Papers (Public Board of Health), and reports on scientific and agricultural meetings of the period, it argues that the investigation must be placed within its temporally and spatially-specific context.



I wish to thank the staff at the Museum of English Rural life, the Suffolk Record Office (Ipswich) and the Bedfordshire Record Office for help with queries relating to and digitisation of materials within their object and archival holdings. Thanks, for observations and for feedback on earlier editions of the work, are due to: James Bowen, Christos Lynteris, Amanda Rees, Briony McDonagh, Neil Pemberton, Kaori Nagai and the anonymous peer reviewer of this chapter; also those who attended and provided questions and feedback at the following events and seminars: the British History of Science Annual Conference, Swansea, 2015; the Agricultural History Society annual meeting, Lexington, USA, 2015; ‘Assembling epidemics: disease, ecology and the (un)natural’ the fourth annual conference of Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 2017; the Centre for English Local History Seminar at the University of Leicester, 2019. Thanks to the Museum of English Rural Life for original funding on the topic of rats and mice via the Gwyn E. Jones Fellowship, 2014/2015.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leeds Trinity UniversityLeedsUK

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