[Conference] Call for Papers: Redefining Leprosy / Disease through Heritage Preservation of Colonial Sites in Asia

January 18-19, 2019, Seoul, South Korea


Call for Papers is now closed. 

The Challenge

   The re-discovery / re-interpretation of leprosy in the late nineteenth century by the West provoked a flurry of international control and management techniques under the rubric of biomedicine to limit its spread across the imperial world. The recommendation for segregation and isolation of leprosy-affected people, as proposed by Hansen and his followers during the First International Leprosy Conference in 1897, in Berlin, led to the establishment of numerous leprosaria in the early 20th century. Thus, several significant leprosy settlements in Asia were built under the colonial legislation of three major empires in the early 20th century: the British Empire, the United States, and the Japanese Empire. While many missionary-run clinics and shelters were established to contribute to the medical care of leprosy-affected people in Asia, colonial powers enforced a mandated set of standards for their collective management and control. In partnership with colonial expansion, these policies of segregation and isolation, originally for hygienic and medical purposes by medical elites, served to benefit the combined economic and nationalist aims of colonialists (Macleod & Lewis, 1988), and promoted homogenized, self-sustained settlements to meet the medical and social needs of the sufferers. Due to the disfiguring of the sufferers and the fear of the disease, the leprosy policies indirectly reinforced social stigmatization against leprosy-affected people. Even after leprosy was found curable in the 1960s, leprosy-affected people chose to remain in settlements to avoid confrontation and social rejection. As a result, most leprosaria functioned as living places for hundreds of stigmatized people and their families into the postcolonial period. Due to their continued isolation from mainstream society, leprosy affected people and their history have been unheard, marginalized, and largely forgotten.

   Since the 1990s, research on leprosy and leprosy-affected people has encompassed many different disciplines such as history, anthropology, medicine, sociology, and psychology, drawing upon perspectives from Eurocentric colonial / imperial criticism of civilized citizens (Anderson, 1998; Edmond, 2006), imperial hygiene (Bashford, 2004), evangelical and racial criticism (Gussow, 1989; Shankar, 2014), as well as modern medical developments and public health policies (Moran, 2007). When the Leprosy Prevention Law in Japan was finally abolished in 1996, the history of leprosy, leprosy settlements, and leprosy-affected people in Asia again received the spotlight. In contrast with prolific discourses from the metropole, the center of leprosy research has now shifted to site-specific periphery diversity through a bottom-up process, focusing on the unique development pattern of each leprosarium. Particularly, a series of transnational movements to promote heritage preservation of the history of leprosy has reconnected historical legacies of leprosy through international collaboration among NGOs, activists, preservationists, academics, and mostly, leprosy-affected people. Leprosaria, as products and symbols of imperial colonialism, have become central to the discussion of colonial leprosy policies and their impacts on social and cultural domains from the perspectives of the periphery/colony in modern times.
   Given that leprosy has been stigmatized and demonized in many distinct layers, leprosy was never a conventional social topic. Places like leprosy settlements were never a priority in historic preservation due to their lesser architectural value and subordinate historical importance in nation-building activities. Furthermore, they are considered as difficult heritage, which reflects “the destructive and cruel side of history” (Logan & Reeves, 2008) and is awkward for public reconciliation with a positive, self-affirming contemporary identity (Macdonald, 2009).


Conference Themes
In this call for papers, we invite contributors from heritage studies, museum studies, medical history, sociology, contemporary archeology, preservation advocacy, etc. to investigate the complexity for heritage preservation and interpretation of colonial leprosaria and related sites in Asia, which were involved with human rights, social stigma, and post-colonial reconciliation. Although the main focus of this conference is leprosaria in Asia, we also welcome papers on colonial settlements, including comparable spaces such as asylums and health facilities associated with quarantine regimes. Conference themes to be explored include, but are not limited to:

Topic one: A Difficult Past as Resilient Resource for the Cohesive Present

  • How have different forces in contemporary events led to revisiting forgotten history for the purposes of building community and national coherence, such as museum interpretation, civil involvements, anti-stigma strategies? What were the political, economic and social contexts to support these current methods?
  • How have collective memories of leprosy-affected people observed the growing solidarity amongst themselves against threats to the integrity of their living spaces, while reinterpreting those same living spaces in conjunction with their local histories?
  • How did the uniqueness of each leprosarium contribute to the agenda of the heritage legacy? In what form and representation?

Topic two: A Difficult Past as Cultural Resource for the Contested Future

  • How did the recent unique way of reappraising heritage value of individual leprosarium challenge the collective identity of leprosaria on an international level under the influence of a possible World Heritage nomination?
  • How did the involvement of diverse stakeholders such as NGOs, leprosy-affected people, and activists affect interpretations of the difficult past while also being used for its cultural and social significances in a contest for cultural diplomacy?
  • How did the complexity of leprosy legacy challenge the existing preservation discussion under the influence of Euro-centric academic discourse on heritage studies?


Submission of Abstracts

The conveners (John DiMoia, Department of Korean History, College of Humanities, Seoul National University, South Korea; Shu-yi Wang, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Tsing-hua University, Taiwan) welcome abstracts of no more than 300 words, which should be submitted to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by August 15 July 31, 2018.


Key Dates

August 15 July 31: Deadline for abstract submission
August 31 August 15: Notification of accepted abstracts
November 30: Deadline for submission of final paper (3,000 - 5,000 words)

Funding / resources: The conveners are currently awaiting the results of funding applications. We expect to be able to provide meals and housing in Seoul, and possibly some part of travel costs. Further information will be provided as it becomes available.