"Living in a State of Filth and Indifference to… their Health”: Weather, Public Health and Urban Governance in Georgetown, Penang, c. 1840-1930 by Dr Fiona Williamson
Date : 04 Jul 2017
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Prof Mike Douglass, Asia Research Institute, and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore


This seminar will explore urban planning, public health and the weather in George Town, Penang. Weather, urban planning and public health were (and still are) integrally connected but little research has connected climatic factors with the health and urban planning of this town. The framing of this relationship has undergone significant shifts in thinking and appearance over time. Parallel to this, ideas about public health and climate changed dramatically over this period. One lens into these processes is the situation and expression of health and climatic concerns within governmental structures. Central to the argument is the premise of transition and experiential factors. Flood management, meteorological research, ideas about climate and public health, water supply, drainage and sanitation were linked, essential facets of urban development. Climate and extremes of weather, public health, and town planning were all dealt with by government departments. Over the period in question however, scientific knowledge, the general public’s expectations of government, the direction of planning, and the structures of local governance, shifted. The study therefore offers insight into the processes of knowledge making and social expectation over a long period. This seminar will start by exploring the situation facing the settlement’s inhabitants, in terms of specific climate and health challenges. It will then consider how these challenges were addressed, why and by whom, and how these elements were repositioned over the period in question.


Fiona Williamson is a Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanism cluster of Asia Research Institute (ARI). Her published and forthcoming work examines a range of issues connected to flooding, public health, historical climate (and climate change), and the history of meteorology in British Malaya and Hong Kong. The research for this paper developed out of a Wellcome Trust funded project: “Historical Perspectives on the Interplay between Public Health and Urban Planning in Penang, Malaysia”.


Admission is free. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.

Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY