10A virulent strain: German bacteriology as scientific racism, 1890–1920
Koch and his disciples were scientific empire-builders, as they demanded hygiene
institutes and facilities for surveillance of micro-organisms harboured by people,
animals and the natural environment.
The state authorities readily invested funds into bacteriology as a means of
offering technical solutions to controlling diseases that could otherwise contribute
to social unrest and dislocation during a period of rapid growth of German cities
and industry. Although the history of bacteriology has traditionally been conceived
of in value-neutral terms as the discovery of new pathogens and improvements in
laboratory techniques, the place of bacteriology in German imperialist ideology
merits consideration. The support for imperialism by Koch and his colleagues
meant that bacteriology became susceptible to more racist formulations. This
chapter examines the extent to which bacteriology became racialised as part of medical responses to transmigrants crossing from the East in the 1890s, and culminating in the German occupation of eastern territories during World War I.