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Seminar | Medicine and propaganda in colonial Java | Maurits Meerwijk

11/04/2023 @ 15:30 - 17:00

This paper introduces my new research project Histories of Health Messaging in Southeast Asia, 1895 – 1945. It offers a brief overview of health messaging as a new public health practice that developed around 1900 and seeks to illustrate it with a case study on yaws control in rural Java. Often referred to by contemporaries as “medical propaganda,” health messaging relied heavily on advances in visual technology such as microscopy, photography, and film to translate breakthroughs in scientific medicine to lay audiences to help prevent disease.

I propose that health messaging targeting yaws transformed this previously marginal disease into a public health priority for the remainder of the Dutch colonial period in Java – and that its success offered both a basis and a model for the control of yaws and other diseases across the archipelago. What was the role of health messaging in yaws control? How did health messaging  transform Dutch and Javanese ideas about this disease? And how did Dutch health workers seek to capitalize on the success of yaws control to generate a new “appreciation” for scientific medicine among the Javanese?


Maurits Meerwijk is a historian of medicine, colonialism, and the environment of Southeast Asia. His first book on plague control in colonial Java recently came out with Cornell University Press. In addition, he has published on the history of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, and malaria. Meerwijk currently works as a researcher at Leiden University and a scientific secretary at the Health Council of the Netherlands.


David Kloos, senior researcher at KITLV. He is interested in religion, gender, violence, colonialism, knowledge formation, visual methods, and the social and political aspects of climate change. 

Format, date, time & venue

This seminar is a hybrid event and will be held in the conference room of KITLV (room 1.68) and online via Zoom, on Tuesday 11 April, from 15.30 – 17.00 PM (CET).


If you want to join this seminar on location, please register via: [email protected].

If you wish to join this webinar online, please register here.


Stand of the Public Health Service at the Pasar Gambir, 1922. Source: archive of Colonial Architecture and Town Planning.


15:30 - 17:00
Event Category:




KITLV, room 1.68 & via Zoom