Man of science, man of religion: the reading of a medical missionary in Uganda, 1896-1918

King, Edmund C. G. (2011). Man of science, man of religion: the reading of a medical missionary in Uganda, 1896-1918. In: SHARP 2011: The Book in Art and Science, 14-17 Jul 2011, Washington, D.C., USA.



Albert Cook (1870-1951) was one of the first medical missionaries to enter Uganda. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the University of London, Cook embarked in 1896 for Uganda as a member of the Church Missionary Society. His work there culminated in the foundation of a hospital and a medical school, the library of which still holds hundreds of the volumes he brought with him from England to Africa, heavily annotated in Cook's hand. The textual traces that Cook left illustrate the transnational nature of information and "the book" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His books were the physical vessels in which the discipline of European medicine was imported to this part of Africa, while the surgical procedures and examinations they enabled him to carry out were the documented in a stream of articles sent back via the postal system to be published in metropolitan medical journals. Yet, Cook's reading shows that there was much more to his intellectual life than medicine. For Cook, there was no real distinction between the textual worlds of science, art, and religion. The detailed diaries he kept throughout his life (now preserved in the Wellcome Library, London) show him reading voraciously: Browning consumed alongside books on surgical techniques and epidemiology, George Eliot in company with eschatological works on biblical prophecy and the apocalypse. The reading of a religiously inclined scientific practitioner like Cook, in other words, shows how the scientific and religious book worked in tandem, as part of a colonial project to absorb Africa into the knowledge circuits of the European world. This paper will examine Cook's diaries in the light of this global sense-making project, showing how texts could act as "placemakers," allowing colonial readers to make sense of their new environments and ideate their own role within them.

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