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Sanjoy Bhattacharya
Professor in the History of Medicine, Director of the Centre for Global Health Histories and Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories



BA (St Stephen's College, University of Delhi), MA (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), PhD (SOAS, London)

Sanjoy Bhattacharya is Director of the History Department’s Centre for Global Health Histories, Professor in the History of Medicine, a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and the Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories (based at the University of York). Sanjoy specialises in the health, medical, environmental, political and social history of nineteenth and twentieth century South Asia, as well as the history and contemporary workings of international and global health programmes around the world.

Sanjoy is deeply involved in the World Health Organization’s Global Health Histories project (GHH), whose global activities are coordinated from inside the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe. As an official and audited WHO activity, GHH organises a regular programme of seminars and workshops in cooperation with other WHO Regional and Country Offices, fostering inter-sectoral work involving UN officials, national and local governments, NGOs, Civil Society Organisations and academics. Sanjoy’s work has been driven by his belief in the importance of linkages between history and policy, which can help the development of inter-disciplinary perspectives in medical history and humanities, as well as the preparation of independent and critical assessments of global health policy.

Sanjoy is editor of the journal Medical History, a world leading publication in its field. Published by Cambridge University Press, with generous support from the Wellcome Trust, Medical History showcases the best scholarship and fosters interest in the history of medicine and health worldwide. Cambridge University Press also appointed Sanjoy editor of a new monograph series titled Global Health Histories in October 2013. He also co-edits, with Dr. Niels Brimnes and Dr. Nitin Sinha, New Perspectives in South Asian History, which is an established series of monographs published by Orient Blackswan India Ltd since 2001.

These editorial responsibilities have allowed Sanjoy to act on his strong belief in the value of international partnerships as a driver for the creation of fresh analytical frameworks, and new kinds of historical and inter-disciplinary research. Sanjoy has established links with scholars and health officials in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, India, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates and the USA. The Centre for Global Health Histories at the University of York has been the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories, the first such body of its kind; this formal recognition and connection to the WHO has boosted Sanjoy’s and his team’s national and international collaborative activities.

Sanjoy enjoys working with academics keen to push disciplinary boundaries and developing exciting, new interdisciplinary methodologies. He has taught courses directed at arts and humanities, medical and science students, and has worked closely with clinicians, public health specialists, scientists and government administrators on research projects over the course of several years.

Sanjoy is deeply involved in a variety of outreach activities and has appeared in a variety of radio and TV programmes. He is committed to helping the development of history teaching aids for schools and has been a consultant to a BAFTA award winning web-based module on the history of smallpox prepared by Timelines TV.



Sanjoy researches histories of health, medicine, imperialism and South Asia since c.1800. His research interests include:

  • Medicine, health and environment in South Asia since c.1800
  • International and global health programmes since 1850
  • The South Asian diaspora since 1900
  • The British empire since 1800
  • Independent South Asia, especially India and Bangladesh

Sanjoy's first book deals with official propaganda and censorship policies in Eastern India during the Second World War. Medical and food aid to control epidemic disease and tackle acute malnutrition were an important component of these information control policies, which stoked his interest in medical history. This led Sanjoy to embark on a major Wellcome Trust-funded project to investigate the efforts to control and eradicate smallpox in India between 1800 and 1980.

Two major monographs resulted from this work. The first deals with efforts to control smallpox in colonial India, whilst the second, dealing with the period between 1947 and 1977, provides the first detailed study of the Indian chapters of the global smallpox eradication programme. Both publications examine the unfolding of immunization policies at the different levels of sub-continental administration, developments in vaccine research and their impact on vaccination strategies in the field, the role of international health agencies in buttressing work carried out by national and local government authorities, and the complexity of social and official responses to policies of surveillance, isolation and vaccination regimes deployed in urban and rural contexts.

Sanjoy has followed this work up with a further history of the worldwide eradication of smallpox, examining international linkages in the programme and the politics of commemorating the end of the natural form of the disease, which is often presented as the 20th century’s greatest success in global public health. Funded by a major Wellcome Trust grant, this has taken the form of a book, as well as a website that provides access to recordings of interviews carried out with a range of ‘smallpox warriors’ (this resource is being constantly updated and represents an independent, critical resource for researchers). Additional outputs from the project have taken the shape of peer reviewed articles in a variety of journals (historical and public health).


Sanjoy is currently focussing on completing his Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Awarded-funded research on Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage policies in South Asia and beyond. He also has a large team working on these – and related – themes. This is currently composed of four post-doctoral fellows, six post-graduate research assistants, four doctoral students and an MA student, his research group has been working on case studies inside India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Sudan, Fiji and the United Kingdom. This project includes assessments of different national healthcare projects, their variable implementation in the states/provinces and districts, the wide-ranging impact of foreign aid packages on the development of facilities for universal healthcare in diverse contexts, and a comparison of the long-term effects of British and Portuguese imperialism, as well as the newer forms of political domination that emerged in Asia and Africa after the Second World War. This project will also include an in-depth examination of the complex engagement of these national and local initiatives with successive World Health Organization- and UN-led global movements for primary health care.

As part of this major Wellcome Trust-funded project, Sanjoy is completing a book that examines how international medical migration can strengthen universal healthcare structures in one location whilst simultaneously weakening care provision in another context at the same time. This work seeks to better understand why international ideologies for the promotion of Primary Health Care often ignored or misunderstood these interconnections, thereby becoming complicit in the weakening of national and local medical provision. In all this, ideas of ‘development’ posited in donor nations and UN agencies will be studied critically, by examining the acute differences between ideological posturing and work actually carried out on the ground in countries receiving ‘aid’. Provisionally titled the Commonwealth of Health: War, Decolonisation and Development in the making of the British National Health Service, the book will be submitted to Cambridge University Press. Sanjoy has collected a large amount of material, from a variety of archives, during the course of this project. Therefore, as and when he gets time, he will be able to write up two other books from this material. One will deal with the history of Bombay’s city’s hospitals between 1900 and 1980, and assess their contributions to Bombay/Maharashtra state’s healthcare provision critically. The other book will examine ideas, provision of and practices in rural healthcare in Western and Northern India between 1890 and 1980.

Sanjoy is concurrently trying to complete another book, provisionally titled The Last Bastion: Smallpox Eradication in Bangladesh and South Asia. Based on five years of detailed research in archives, this is a study of how policies designed in North America and Europe were received by governmental and civil society organisations in East Pakistan/Bangladesh, and then interpreted in manifold ways in response to a diversity of local political and economic factors. In this way, this book urges the incorporation of greater nuance in the study of the histories of global health programmes, whose components coexisted concurrently at many administrative, institutional and ideological levels. A variety of bilateral, regional and international agreements with national aid agencies and bodies such as the Commonwealth Secretariat, whose contributions ebbed and flowed over a period of time, are also presented as major determinants in the implementation of the shape of the South Asian and global smallpox eradication programme.

External activities


  • Fellow, Royal Asiatic Society
  • Member of Core Editorial Committee and External Advisor, Global Health Histories Initiative, World Health Organisation, Geneva headquarters.
  • Trustee and member of the executive committee of the Society of the Social History of Medicine (2009-2012).
  • Member, American Association for the History of Medicine
  • Member, Asian Society for the History of Medicine
  • Member, Global Health Trust/Human Resources for Health and Development: A Joint Learning Experience/a Rockefeller Foundation-led international initiative
  • Affiliate, History and Philosophy of Science Department, University of Cambridge, UK.
  • UNE Asia Centre Affiliated Fellow, Asia Research Centre, University of New England, Armidale, Australia.
  • Research Associate, Green College, University of Oxford, UK.

Editorial duties

  • Editor of monograph series titled ‘Global Health Histories’ (Cambridge University Press)
  • Editor of the journal Medical History (Cambridge University Press)
  • Editor of Wellcome History (2002-2012)
  • Founding and co-editor of academic monograph series titled 'New Perspectives in South Asian History' (Orient Blackswan India Ltd)
  • Member of the editorial board of The Handbook of Oriental Studies, 2nd Section (South Asia) by Brill Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands (2003-2010)
  • Member of editorial board of the journal Social History of Medicine(May 2004 to February 2009)
  • Member of editorial board of The Dictionary of Medical Biography by Greenwood Publishing, Portsmouth, USA, 2006

Media coverage

  • Chapter titled 'Avoid' in book titled Public Health Campaigns: Getting the Message Across (Geneva: WHO, 2010). This 183 page book showcases WHO, national government and international agency posters dealing with public health issues, and has been published in English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian.
  • Contributed in 2009 to a short feature film on 'Vaccines and Vaccination' prepared by Associated Press UK (Researcher and Producer: Ms. Havovi Tood).
  • Led a 'perspectives tour', on 9 May 2008, of the Wellcome Trust's permanent exhibitions located at 183 Euston Road, London.
  • Participant in BBC Radio 4 programme dealing with the Bengal Famine of the 1940s, which is part of a series titled The Things We Forgot to Remember presented by Michael Portillo, on 7 January 2008.
  • Participant in LBC radio's 'Plague Week', which was part of the channel's Nick Ferarri at Breakfast programme, between 31 July and 3 August 2007; I appeared on the programme on Friday 3 August, on an episode dealing with smallpox.
  • Provided a recorded interview on malaria in 2007 for a permanent audio-visual display at the Wellcome Collections in 183 Euston Road, London.
  • Participant in BBC Radio 4 programme titled 'The Search For Immunisation', which was part of the In Our Time series presented by Melvyn Bragg, on 20 April 2006.
Head shot of Sanjoy Bhattacharya

Contact details

Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya
Vanbrugh College V/136
Department of History
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: Internal 2979, External (01904) 322979

Student hours