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Nosaka Shiori

Doctoral student in the history of the sciences and medicine, EHESS

Contact: shiori.nosaka(at)




Thesis title: “Laboratory of a modern science: the history of bacteriology in Imperial Japan (1880-1940)

Directors: Jean-Paul Gaudillière (Cermes3), Bernard Thomann (Inalco)

Having arisen as laboratory medicine in the 1880s – attributing the cause of infectious diseases to pathogens that are micro-organisms – bacteriology seemed a promising science against multiple epidemics brought about on a global scale following the expansion and intensification of commercial activities. Contrary to this image, medical approaches proposed by theories and tools of bacteriology were still at an experimental stage and controversial, until the appearance of another biotechnological invention in the mid 20th century: antibiotics. This thesis aims to study transformations in bacteriology during this period – the 1880s to the 1940s – focusing on the case of Japan, where the State fully employed bacterial aetiology in health practices that were marked by a centralised system, with the goal of building a modern empire. While drawing inspiration from international public health policies – that enabled the sharing of bacteriological knowledge and techniques – Japanese bacteriologists saw pragmatic and local constraints in the epidemics, which took on a unique form at each appearance. They thus produced their own knowledge in order to adapt it to both their geopolitical security and expansionism. To understand this dynamic, which questions notions of the transfer of so-called Western science, we analyse different modes of interpretation, prevention and treatment of diseases discovered in bacteriology by focusing on cholera, malaria and tuberculosis, three diseases that allow us to pursue our subject over the long term.

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