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November 19: David Pomfret – “Springs Eternal: Toward a Global History of Rejuvenation”

Society of Fellows Lecture Series, Fall 2018

David Pomfret, HKU, Department of History “Springs Eternal: Toward a Global History of Rejuvenation”

Human dreams of prolonging the lifetime and conquering death appear trans-historical. This makes it difficult to pinpoint a particular historical moment when the war on aging commenced. However, in recent years scholars have argued that ‘rejuvenation’ took distinctively modern forms as a specific set of modern medical practices emerging in concert with a new cultural semantics of youth. Discussions of past attempts to recapture youth have mostly focused upon surgical procedures intended to realize sexual potency and libidinal enhancement, as well as anti-aging medicine and cosmetic body projects. However, this presentation makes an argument for conceptualising rejuvenation more broadly – as a diverse, contested and sometimes competing set of projects and practices in global circulation.

It does so by focusing upon the case of young soldiers who were of symbolic and practical importance to nineteenth century British imperial expansion in the tropics. Scientists studying tropical zones claimed climatological conditions accelerated the degenerative impact of time upon bodies. Responding to fears of racial-climatological impotence, empire-builders developed a range of strategies – from troop rotation to the development of hill stations – scaling up rejuvenation to the level of entire population groups. This talk underlines the imperial dimensions of rejuvenation and sheds light on the challenges arising from casting youth as ideal empire-builders, far beyond Europe, and well before the discovery of the endocrine body.

David M. Pomfret is Professor in the Department of History and Head of the School of Humanities. He is author or editor of five books. His most recent monograph, Youth and Empire: Trans-colonial Childhoods in British and French Asia (Stanford University Press, 2016) won the ‘Grace Abbot Book Prize’ 2017.

November 19, 2018 4PM Room 7.58 Run Run Shaw Tower Centennial Campus


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