Research Interests and Projects
Robert’s current research focuses on the social,
cultural, and political dimensions of infectious disease in modern Asia. An ongoing
project examines the repurposing of communication technologies for epidemic surveillance:
from the telegraph, telephone and radio, to satellites and aerial robotics ('drones').
He has also written on imperial medicine, colonialism, and the modern state. Informing
his research is an interest in space, place, and the securitization of health. These
convergent interests evolved from earlier work on the deployment of Western state-building
technologies and institutional practices in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire
in Southeast Europe. Listen to an interview on the
New Books Network (NBN). He is currently the Principal Investigator of the
following research projects:
'Techno-Imperialism and the Origins of Global Health,'
supported by a GRF award from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong.
'Political Ecologies: Drones and Emerging Infections in
Epidemics in Modern Asia
"This work provides a new model for historians who have an interest in disease
epidemics and gives the epidemiologists, who are currently highly medicalised, the
opportunity to appreciate the foresight of Rudolf Virchow, a giant in the field of
bioscience in Germany in the 19th century and the father of modern pathology, as well
as one of the founders of modern public health, who stressed the importance of
understanding social, cultural, economic, and political context of epidemics and the
social actions needed to tackle them,"
- Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol.16, no.12 (2016), p.1344.
of Panic: Epidemics and Colonial Anxieties
"This collection of essays on panic and empire is not only thought-provoking but also
very timely. As the 2016 U.S. presidential race unfolds, dystopian visions of the future
are creating panic among portions of the American electorate. By systematically
analysing how panics, particularly those precipitated by disease but also other
crises including terrorism, have historically been produced, defined, and managed
in different imperial and post-imperial settings over the past two centuries,
contributors to Empires of Panic offer important insights into the highly
charged 'panic politics' of the present,"
- Carol A. Benedict, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society HK Branch,
vol.56 (2016), pp.243-246.
"It should become clear to anyone reading this volume that
the subject-matter at hand is important: we'll likely live or terminate ourselves as a
species based on how we handle such pandemics in the future, given the terrifying
speed with which the planet has now knitted itself together. In this respect, Empires
of Panic is a real service to the field, both in showing that the past is prologue,
as the saying goes, and also in warning us that not to take such lessons seriously would be
- Eric Tagliacozzo, Asia Pacific Perspectives, vol.14, no.1 (2016),
Disease and Crime: A History of Social Pathologies
and the New Politics of Health
"Disease and Crime is a
well-integrated collection of essays that span the (post-) colonial histories of medicine,
law and politics in East Asia and Europe. Comprising eight compact chapters and an
admirably well-synthesized introduction, this volume takes an interdisciplinary,
cross-cultural and comparative approach. Unlike many edited volumes, Disease
and Crime is superbly organized and can be read cover to cover. Vibrant
theoretical discussions are grounded in context-driven case studies examining the
social, cultural and political forces that shape categories of disease and crime...
This highly readable volume will interest scholars in anthropology, history, sociology,
medical humanities and area studies. As an excellent example of solid, high quality,
robust scholarship, Disease and Crime will satisfy early career researchers
and experienced academics alike,"
- Social History, vol.40, no.4 (2015), pp.566-568.
"[Disease and Crime] is a unique and ambitious
collection that fills many gaps and bridges many divides. It is global in scope, and
manages to match the individual chapters' themes of global connection by studying areas
with a broad global and temporal scope, yet making coherent connections between all
of them. The individual chapters are well written, the volume well-constructed, and
it is deserving of a place in the library of any reader interested in the interplay
of disease and crime in historical and contemporary thought,"
- Social History of Medicine,
vol.29, no.3 (2016), pp.657-659.
Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and Cultures of Planning in Asia
with David M. Pomfret]
"Imperial Contagions takes us a step further toward
more interactive, and less bounded, histories of colonial medicine in Asia. It draws
attention to the pathologizing of colonial space, the heterogeneity of medical
practice, and the fragmentary and partial authority of imperial public health. It
leads us to consider again the late-colonial obsession with improvement and benevolence,
and the relations of this self-serving and often delusory project to later national and
international enthusiasm for development. An important collection…"
- Warwick Anderson, Journal of Asian
Studies, vol.73, no.1 (2014), pp.202-204.
Teaching and Courses Taught
Robert received the Outstanding
Teaching Award for 2012 in recognition of his contribution to teaching and
learning in the University.
HIST1017 War and Medicine in Europe, 1800-1950
Technologies of Empire: Science, Medicine and Colonialism
Pandemic! Contagious Histories
Humanity in Crisis: Humanitarianism in the Modern World
Pandemic! Contagious Histories
Battles for Bodies: The Birth of Surveillance Society
Contagions: Global Histories of Disease
Students should consult Robert Peckham's
for further information on courses they are taking or are interested in taking.
Research Postgraduate Supervisions
Robert welcomes enquiries from prospective
MPhil and PhD students with interests that coincide with his own research,
including aspects of: imperial and colonial history; the history of science,
technology, medicine, and health; biopolitics, security, and the modern state.
Angharad FLETCHER, 'Sisters Behind the Wire:
Australian Military Nursing during World War II' (MPhil) (2010-2012)
- Angharad FLETCHER, 'Imperial
Sisters: Disease, Conflict, and Nursing in the British Empire, 1880-1914'
(co-supervised by Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, King's College London) (PhD) (2012-)
- Maurits MEERWIJK, 'History of
Dengue in Asia,' (PhD) (2013-)
- Mark CLIFFORD, 'Let There
Be Light: Electricity and Colonial Power in the Making of Modern Hong Kong' (PhD)
- Georges PAPAVASILIOU, 'Seismic
Politics: China and the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake' (MPhil) (2014-2016)