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Prof.. R. Peckham
Honorary Professor Robert Peckham


BA, PhD King's College London

Email Address


Research Projects | Publications | Covid-19 Publications | Courses | RPG Supervisions


Robert Peckham lectures on the history of medicine and health in the Department of History and in 2010 introduced cross-faculty teaching modules on global histories of disease and public health.


He is a founder and Director of the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine (CHM), a joint initiative of the Faculty of Arts and the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, where he oversees a programme of research projects involving a wide range of disciplines networked to national and international institutions. From 2008-2011 he was Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has also held fellowships at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge and St. Peter's College, Oxford, and he has been the recipient of a Senior Alexander S. Onassis Foundation Fellowship. In 2015, he was King's College London-HKU Fellow, and in 2017-2018 he was Visiting Scholar at New York University. He is editor of the interdisciplinary series Histories and Ecologies of Health, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.




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. He has most recently been 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 Southeast Asia.'


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Epidemics in Modern Asia

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.


Empires 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 foolhardy indeed,"


- Eric Tagliacozzo, Asia Pacific Perspectives, vol.14, no.1 (2016), pp.119-120.


Empires of Panic: Epidemics and Colonial Anxieties

Disease and Crime: A History of Social Pathologies and the New Politics of Health

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.

Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and Cultures of Planning in Asia
[co-editor 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.

Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and Cultures of Planning in Asia




Covid-19 Publications


'Who Needs Arts in a Crisis?' Times Higher Education (December 21, 2020).


'War of the Worlds: Covid-19 and Pandemic Belligerence,' Items [Social Science Research Council] (August 11, 2020) [online essay].


'Past Pandemics Exposed China's Weaknesses,' Foreign Affairs [Council on Foreign Relations] (March 22, 2020).


'The Contagious Power of Fear,' New Statesman (March 11, 2020).


'Coronavirus: The Low Tech of the High Tech,' Somatosphere (March 6, 2020) [online essay].


'Why the World Health Organization is Calling Coronavirus an "Infodemic,"' Prospect Magazine (March 4, 2020).


'COVID-19 Infodemic: To Stem the Tide of Panic, We Need to Understand People's Fears, Not Condemn Them,' South China Morning Post (March 1, 2020).


'Can We Overcome Pandemics?' Bloomberg: Digital Originals (February 24, 2020).


'The COVID-19 Outbreak Has Shown We Need Strategies to Manage Panic During Epidemics,' British Medical Journal (February 21, 2020).


'Coronavirus is Testing the Limits of China's – and Hong Kong's – Preparedness,' South China Morning Post (February 14, 2020).


'A Health Emergency is No Time to Sideline the Medical Humanities,' Times Higher Education (February 10, 2020).


'Coronavirus Panic,' The Independent (January 30, 2020).


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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

  • HIST2111 Technologies of Empire: Science, Medicine and Colonialism

  • HIST2112 Pandemic! Contagious Histories

  • HIST2137 Humanity in Crisis: Humanitarianism in the Modern World

  • HIST2138 Pandemic! Contagious Histories

  • CCHU9002 Battles for Bodies: The Birth of Surveillance Society Link

  • CCGL9003 Contagions: Global Histories of Disease Link


Students should consult Robert Peckham's course site 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) (2013-2017)
  • Mark CLIFFORD, 'Let There Be Light: Electricity and Colonial Power in the Making of Modern Hong Kong' (PhD) (2014-)
  • Georges PAPAVASILIOU, 'Seismic Politics: China and the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake' (MPhil) (2014-2016)
  • Nicolo Paolo LUDOVICE, 'Animals and Human Health in the Philippines' (PhD) (2017-)
  • Jack GREATREX, 'Plague in Hong Kong and Treaty-Port China' (PhD) (2018-)
Latest Publication
Epidemics in Modern AsiaBook
Epidemics in Modern Asia

Cambridge University Press

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