Sulphuric Utopias: A History of Maritime Fumigation

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MIT Press, Mar 31, 2020 - Science - 320 pages

How early twentieth century fumigation technologies transformed maritime quarantine practices and inspired utopian visions of disease-free global trade.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fumigation technologies transformed global practices of maritime quarantine through chemical and engineering innovation. One of these technologies, the widely used Clayton machine, blasted sulphuric acid gas through a docked ship in an effort to eliminate pathogens, insects, and rats while leaving the cargo and the structure of the vessel unharmed, shortening its time in quarantine and minimizing the risk of importing infectious diseases. In Sulphuric Utopias, Lukas Engelmann and Christos Lynteris examine this overlooked but historically crucial practice at the intersection of epidemiology, hygiene, applied chemistry, and engineering. They show how maritime fumigation inspired utopian visions of disease-free trade to improve global shipping and to encourage universally applicable standards of sanitation and hygiene.

Engelmann and Lynteris chart the history of ideas about fumigation, disinfection, and quarantine, and chronicle the development of the Clayton machine in 1880s New Orleans. Built by the Louisiana Board of Health and adapted and patented by Thomas Clayton, the machine offered a barrier against bacteria and pests and enabled a highway to global trade. Engelmann and Lynteris chronicle the Clayton machine's success and examine its competitors, including carbon-based fumigation methods in Germany and the Ottoman Empire as well as the “Sulfurozador” in Argentina. They follow the international standardization of maritime fumigation and explore the Clayton machine's decline after World War I, when visions of “sulphuric utopia” were replaced by a pragmatic acknowledgment of epidemiological complexity.

 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Fumigation Disinfection and Quarantine
23
The Birth of the Clayton in New Orleans
55
Rat Destruction in Istanbul and Hamburg
81
Clayton and the Defense of Europe
105
Stabilizing Fumigation
125
Fumigating the Nationthe Sulfurozador in Argentina ...
147
The Demise of Sulphur
175
Conclusion
199
Notes
207
Bibliography
257
Index
285
Copyright

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About the author (2020)

Lukas Engelmann is Chancellor's Fellow in History and Sociology of Biomedicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Christos Lynteris is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.

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