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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

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

Sanjoy Bhattacharya is Co-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 at the University of York. Sanjoy specialises in the health, medical, political and social history of nineteenth and twentieth century South Asia, as well as the history and contemporary workings of international and global health organisations, and their programmes around the world.

Sanjoy has always worked in inter-disciplinary ways and within inter-sectoral settings, and remains actively involved in health policy research and evaluation work in national and international agencies. He is a co-founder of the World Health Organization’s Global Health Histories project (GHH), which works across the WHO HQ in Geneva, WHO Regional Offices in Copenhagen and Cairo, and multiple WHO Country Offices. As an official and audited WHO activity, GHH carries out research to assist policy initiatives and public engagement at WHO member state level, and organises a regular programme of seminars and workshops. This work, carried out over two decades, has consistently created impactful partnerships globally, involving WHO frameworks, other UN agencies, national and local governments, NGOs, Civil Society Organisations and universities.

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 cutting-edge 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 (Aarhus) and Dr. Nitin Sinha (Berlin), New Perspectives in South Asian History, which is an established series of monographs, published by Orient Blackswan India Ltd since 2001.

All these policy and editorial responsibilities have allowed Sanjoy to act on his strong belief in the value of international partnerships as a driver for social good and change, and new forms of historical and inter-disciplinary research. Sanjoy has established links with scholars and health officials in Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, the USA and Qatar. The Centre for Global Health Histories at the University of York has been the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories since 2013, the first such body of its kind; this formal recognition and connection to the WHO has provided further boost to 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, post-colonial nationalism, internationalism and South Asia since c.1800. His research interests include:

  • Medicine and health in South Asia since c.1800
  • International and national health programmes since 1850
  • The South Asian diaspora since 1900
  • The British empire since 1800
  • Independent South Asia, especially India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
  • The Second World War, end of empire, post-war internationalism, and the United Nations in health and development
  • Global and international health policy
  • International Relations 

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 take part in a major Wellcome Trust-funded project, to investigate the efforts to control and eradicate smallpox in India between 1800 and 1980, with Professor Michael Worboys and Professor Mark Harrison in 1997.

Two major monographs resulted from this work. The first, co-authored with Harrison and Worboys, 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. In both books, the histories of implementation and importance of policy adaptation, involving a range of actors working on the ground, is highlighted.

Sanjoy has followed this work up with further histories 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 major Wellcome Trust grants, this has taken the form of a book, multiple articles, 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 working concurrently to complete publications from a number of projects.

The first project, which combines research funded by his Wellcome Trust Fellowship and Dr. Namrata Ganneri’s Commonwealth Rutherford Fellowship at the Department of History at the University of York, will produce a co-authored book on smallpox control and eradication pilots in India during the 1950s and 1960s, which laid the groundwork for the so-called ‘intensified phase’ of the worldwide smallpox eradication programme from 1968 onwards. This will analyse the structures of international, WHO and national governance in complex ways, eschewing simplistic narratives of the top-down imposition of ideas in what is widely regarded as the greatest success story in 20th century international public health.

Sanjoy has also been managing the completion of his Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, which has funded research on Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage policies in South Asia and beyond. His team of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers have been examining case studies in India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Sudan, Fiji and China. 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. This project has allowed in-depth examinations of the complex engagement of these national and local initiatives with successive World Health Organization- and UN-led global movements for primary health care from 1948 onwards, and has highlighted the importance of national and sub-national ideas, contributions and adaptations. This Wellcome Trust Award has also funded around research-based 100 WHO Global Health Histories seminars delivered around the world, as well as training sessions in history-policy links and methodologies for WHO, and Sri Lankan and Indian government officials.

Sanjoy is also preparing his own book from this Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award. This is a new conceptualisation of the birth and expansion of the World Health Organization, based on a detailed assessment of ideas, discussions and debates within the growing networks of WHO Regional Offices. This is a study of the impact of decolonisation on WHO governing structures in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, demonstrating how these political developments keep the goal of providing universal access to health and the maintenance of strong primary healthcare on the international agenda.

This Senior Investigator Award has also provided a wealth of data on Indian health structures, planning and implementation, which will be used by Sanjoy to produce two more books. The first will examine how international medical migration can strengthen healthcare structures in one location whilst simultaneously weakening care provision in another context. This work seeks to better understand why international ideologies for the promotion of Primary Health Care often ignored these interconnections, thereby becoming complicit in the weakening medical provision, especially in developing country contexts. Therefore, 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’. This book is provisionally titled the Commonwealth of Health: War, Decolonisation and Development in the making of the British National Health Service. Sanjoy has also collected a large amount of material, from a variety of archives, about ideas, provision of and practices in rural healthcare in Western and Northern India between 1890 and 1980; this will result in a third book from this project.

A Wellcome Trust project grant will also result in a book 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 international and global health programmes, whose components coexisted concurrently at many administrative, institutional and ideological levels. This book will demonstrate how a variety of bilateral, regional and international agreements with national aid agencies, such as UK ODA, USAID and the Swedish International Development Agency, whose contributions ebbed and flowed over a period of time, were major determinants in the implementation of the shape of the chapters South Asian of the worldwide smallpox eradication programme.



  • Fellow, Royal Asiatic Society
  • Member of Core Editorial Committee and External Advisor, Global Health Histories Initiative, World Health Organisation.
  • 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)
  • Founding editor and currently co-editor of academic monograph series titled 'New Perspectives in South Asian History' (Orient Blackswan India Ltd, formerly Orient Longman Ltd.)
  • Editor of Wellcome History (2002-2012)
  • 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

Involvement in External Projects

  • Member, Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Group Member on the Ethics of Global Health Research, London, UK (service 2017-19; report released in January 2020:
  • Advisor, Wellcome Trust Investigator Award-funded project titled ‘The alcohol industry, public health sciences and policy’ led by Professor Jim McCambridge, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, UK (October 2016 to September 2021).
  • Advisor, Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant-funded project titled ‘York Poor Law, Health and Environmental Health Records’ led by Dr. Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist, York, UK (June 2016-June 2017).
  • Advisor, Wellcome Trust Investigator Award-funded project titled ‘The Economic Gaze: The World Bank’s Influence on Global Public Health’, led by Professor Devi Sridhar, University of Edinburgh, UK (October 2016- September 2020).
  • Advisor, Wellcome Trust Investigator Award-funded project titled ‘The Reluctant Internationalists: A History of Public Health and International Organisations, Movements and Experts in Twentieth Century Europe’, led by Dr. Jessica Reinisch, Birkbeck College, London (October 2013-September 2017).
  • Advisor, AHRC-funded project titled ‘International Health Organizations Networks’, led by Professor Jim Mills, Strathclyde University, US, and Professor Yong-an Zhang, Shanghai University, China (January 2014 to December 2016).
  • Advisor, Irish Research Council-funded project titled ‘Irish Record Linkage, 1864-1912’ led by Dr. Ciara Breathnach, University of Limerick, and Dr. Sandra Collins, Royal Irish Academy, Ireland (January 2014 to December 2016).
  • Advisor, Project titled ‘Leadership and the Global Politics of Disease Eradication’ led by Dr. Sophie Harman of the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London and Dr. Simon Rushton of the Department of Politics, University of Sheffield, UK (October 2013-September 2016).
  • Trustee and member of the Executive Committee of the Society of the Social History of Medicine (2009 and 2010)
  • ESRC-funded project titled ‘Indian doctors in geriatric medicine and the UK’s National Health Service’, led by Professor Joanna Bornat, Open University, UK (October 2007-October 2009).

Selected External Service

  • Parent Governor, with special oversight over Pastoral Care, Diversity and Equalities, for Archbishop Holgate’s Secondary School (A Church of England Academy Founded 1546), York, UK (2019-22).
  • External Advisory Board member, CIUHCT (Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology), based in Lisbon, Portugal (2019-22).
  • Member, World Health Organization Expert Committee on the Cultural Contexts of Health, for the WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Advisor, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom (from 2016 onwards).
  • Member, Wellcome Trust’s Medical Humanities Expert Review Group for Investigator & Collaborative awards (from 2015 onwards).
  • Review Committee for the WHO Collaborating Centre for Historical Research in Public Health appointed by the Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland (January-February 2015).
  • Program Committee, American Association for the History of Medicine Annual Meeting 2013 held at Atlanta, USA.
  • Member, Wellcome Trust’s Medical History and Humanities Fellowship Interview Committee (2013).
  • Editorial Advisory Board for Social History of Medicine journal, published by Oxford University Press (2006-09)


Media coverage

  • Expert contributor, BBC Ideas programme titled ‘The story of the killer disease humanity eradicated’, made in partnership with the Royal Society and released on the 5th of June 2020 (
  • Expert Advisory Board member for an international exhibition titled ‘The Sun: Living with our Star’, Science Museum, London, UK (2019-22).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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