Domesticated Geographies: Animals and the Making of Modern Health in the Philippines, 1860-1935

Domesticated Geographies: Animals and the Making of Modern Health in the Philippines, 1860-1935
This thesis draws on extensive archival research to examine the role of animals in the development of sanitary science and public health in the colonial Philippines, from Spanish rule in the 1860s to the handover of administration to the Filipinos by the Americans in 1935. How were animals embroiled in the institutions and practices of an emergent ‘hygienic modernity’ in the Philippines? To what extent did animals shape modern medical epistemologies, and conversely, how did biomedical and biopolitical priorities influence attitudes to animals? In addressing these questions, the thesis tracks the evolution of animal-human relations across critical “domesticated animal geographies”: from the cold storage facility to the dairy farm, from home to forest, and from slaughterhouse to laboratory. The thesis examines the linkages between these disciplinary spaces, each with its own connected but distinctive regulatory regime, and in the process maps a “geography of domestication.” As animals moved across and between these sites, they acquired different sets of value as commodities, commodity producers, knowledge-objects, pets, nuisances, and disease vectors. By investigating these diverse sites of animal-human interaction and their inclusion in local, colonial, inter-regional and global networks of production, the thesis shows how they functioned as spaces within which new knowledge, relations, structures, and technologies were produced to manage animal and human health.

This is the first study to resituate animals at the centre of colonial health in the Philippines, demonstrating the crucial role of animals in the development of a distinctive colonial bio-management. By using textual, visual, cartographic, architectural, and material primary sources from archives in Asia, Europe, and North America, the thesis adopts a cross-disciplinary approach that brings together recent scholarship in colonial history, animal studies and multispecies anthropology, sociology, cultural geography, environmental studies, and science and technology studies.

The thesis is organized in three sections. The first section (Chapters I and II) demonstrates the key role of animals in the foundations of modern health in the Philippines from the 1860s, examining colonial mapping initiatives, geographical surveys, and laboratory experimentation. The second section (Chapters III, IV, and V) focuses on animals as commodities and commodity producers: from the acquisition and delivery of animals to their slaughtering, processing, and distribution as fresh meat, frozen goods, and canned milk. The last section (Chapters VI and VII) examines the domestic space of the ‘home’ and the ‘wild’ environs of the forest and mountain areas, which the government designated as protected habitats — places and spaces, in other words, defined in contradistinction to the industrial or quasi-industrial institutions of work.

The thesis situates the Philippines within broad cultural and geopolitical contexts, showing how animals were enmeshed in multi-scalar networks. While it challenges the relegation of animals within colonial historiography, it seeks to expand the scope of medical and health history by demonstrating the constitutive role of animals in new systems of colonial bio-management. Finally, the thesis provides historical perspectives on urgent contemporary concerns in the Philippines, including health equity, resource management, and the threat posed by novel zoonotic diseases.


Nicolo Paolo P. Ludovice

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

The University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Arts, Department of History






Health and Medicine