The Nurse of Parasites: Gender Concepts in Patrick Manson's Parasitological Research

Journal of the History of Biology 37 (1):103-130 (2004)
Patrick Manson, the so-called father of tropical medicine, played a pivotal role in making that discipline into a specialty. During his early career in China he discovered that the mosquito was the intermediate host of the filarial parasite and he somewhat peculiarly called the mosquito the " nurse " of the filarial worm. The discovery contributed greatly to the intellectual foundation of modern parasitology. In this paper I situate Manson's nomenclature in the context of nineteenth-century biological research on reproductive mechanisms and argue that Manson's concept of the " nurse " was derived from nineteenth-century theories of sexual division of labor in nature's economy. The way he framed the relation between the mosquito and the parasite, moreover, can be understood in the terms of the domestic arrangement of the colonial European household. Manson's research demonstrates the significant exchange between medical concerns over European women's procreative role in the tropics and biological studies of parasitic reproduction.
Keywords colonialism  division of labor  gender  life cycle  maternity  parasitology  reproduction  sex  tropical medicine  wet nurse
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