Conseils aux partants: Une lecture politique des manuels d'hygiène coloniale publiés en Belgique (1895-1950)

Translated title of the contribution: 'A piece of advice to those departing': A political reading of colonial hygiene manuals published in Belgium (1895-1950)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Tropical hygiene was an important discipline in the more or less formal preparation Belgians received before going to the Congo. Historians and anthropologists have used this kind of sources along with other forms to write a history of colonial ideology and culture. Hygiene manuals have indeed fundamental things to say about the production of racial and social categories in the colony. This article offers a political reading of the few manuals published in Belgium during the first half of the 20 th century. An effort is also made to recover the autonomy of the discourse on hygiene inside Belgian colonial ideology. Two periods are distinguished. During the first period, going from the end of the 19 th century till World War II, hygiene occupied a central place in the ideological apparatus of Belgian colonialism. In those days, hygienists strongly insisted on the climatic difference in order to establish their legitimacy. Their remarks about sobriety and temperance are used here to illustrate how they contributed to naturalize political choices made by the colonial State. The second period, i.e. the postwar years, saw a major turn in the hygienists' discourse. The importance of climatic difference was less strongly felt. Hygiene lost its central role and normative force. Nevertheless, a study of Doctor Habig's books shows that hygiene became much more overtly political, which allowed it to keep playing an important role in relation to colonial ideology. Habig did not use hygiene to justify political choices made by the colonizer, but to promote the implementation of the policies he thought were best suited to assure the continuation of the Belgian presence in the Congo. A reading of the different manuals published before and after World War II suggests a thorough evolution in both the form and the functions of colonial hygiene. But all the manuals shared a common purpose during the whole period: placing fear at the center of the preparation to colonial life.

Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)97-125
Number of pages29
JournalBelgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis/ Revue Belge de Histoire Contemporaine
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History

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