Department of Geography

Past events

British life assurance and the imagined geographies of climate and race, 1840-1930

Wednesday 8 May 13:00 until 15:00
Arts C233
Speaker: Dr James Kneale
Part of the series: Geography Research Seminars: Beyond the Fringe


British life assurance companies insured thousands of travellers and emigrants between 1840 and 1930. Nervous about the dangerous climates in which their customers would find themselves, particularly in the tropics, firms charged them extra for ‘foreign residence’, attempting to calculate the additional risks of heat and disease and to price them accordingly. While they sought up-to-date information on climate science and medical geography, they possessed other sources of information, including their own data on the mortality of British lives abroad. The maps these companies produced demonstrate that life assurance shaped as well as reflected climatic and medical science. The idea of ‘acclimatisation’ remained controversial into the twentieth century, for example, sometimes troubling the idea that white lives were fit for empire. These discussions, and the biographies of emigrants assured by these companies, suggest that while assurance might well have played a role in securing the expansion of empire, it could still be haunted by the idea of the ‘white man’s grave’

Chair Prof. Carl Griffin

ALL WELCOME (Coffee/ tea and cake is provided)

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By: Martin Wingfield
Last updated: Thursday, 2 May 2019