Townsend Middleton

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9952

Approve Date

October 24, 2019

Project Title

Middleton, Townsend (North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of) "Quinine's Remains: The Lives and Afterlives of a World-Historical Substance"

Quinine is an alkaloid that profoundly shaped human history: a world-historical substance. Derived from cinchona, the fabled ‘fever tree’, quinine was for centuries malaria’s only cure—and as such, an instrument of empire. In British India, quinine was vital to colonial health and power. But the alkaloid has left behind uncertainty for those who made it in the Darjeeling Hills. With the global pharmaceutical market dominated by synthetic antimalarials and better quinines from Africa, there is no longer demand for Indian quinine. Government cinchona plantations first established by the British, however, still exist—albeit in a dilapidated state. What is to become of this once-vital industry—and the 50,000 people who inhabit its remains—is unclear. The government has targeted the plantations for privatization, but local communities have, to date, successfully resisted. They are now in an urgent struggle to redefine quinine’s remains for the 21st century. Blending history and ethnography, this research tracks quinine from the heydays of colonial medicine to the precarities of India’s cinchona plantations today. It asks fundamentally: how do human beings make history with plants, chemicals, and other ‘world historical’ substances? And crucially also, what do we make of life after they run their course?