Sandra Manickam

Sandra Manickam is assistant professor of History.

Upcoming project

Race and genetics across nations

This research is about the history of the concept of race within medicine and biomedical research. The category of ‘race’ in biomedical research develops in tandem with new understandings in the field of genetics where human diversity and uniqueness is conceptualized in order to deliver personalized medicine, develop drugs and combat health inequalities. Concurrently, the category of ‘race’ in medicine interacts with ideas of race in other disciplines such as history and sociology. The category of ‘race’ also emerges from the public sphere such as law and politics where other non-medically based understandings of race interact with these newer genetics’ understandings. This project’s approach of studying the embeddedness of biomedical research in states and societies, and its overlaps with global and local ideas of race, constitutes a novel approach in the history of racial ideas as well as the development of genetics.

My project aims to develop a new model of knowledge interaction aimed at understanding the way ideas of race and genetics research interact to change the very idea of race and how genes relate to race. Through this research I hope to uncover how the concept of race within genetics research both influences and is influenced by broader understandings of race in several countries worldwide.

This project was awarded the L'oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science award for the Academic Year 2020-2021. In early 2021, Sandra Manickam will be spending a semester at NIAS to work on this project. See

Related publications:

Sandra Khor Manickam, Taming the Wild: Aborigines and Racial Knowledge in Colonial Malaya. Singapore: NUS Press, 2015.

Sandra Khor Manickam "Not Just Skin Deep: Ideas of Racial Difference in Genetic Studies on Orang Asli from the 1950s", in Malaysia's 'Original People': Past, Present and Future of the Orang Asli, ed. Kirk Endicott (Singapore: NUS Press, 2015)

Sandra Khor Manickam, “Situated Thinking: Or how the Science of Race was Socialised in British Malaya”, Journal of Pacific History 2012, ifirst, pp. 1-25

Current project

Japanese occupation of Malaya: Ando Kozo and the Medical Department of the Japanese Military Administration of Malaya (1941-1945). Research funded by the Sumitomo Foundation. 

The research sought to combine English, Malay and Japanese archival materials in order to reconstruct the efforts of the Japanese Military Administration’s Medical Department when dealing with public health issues particularly in the first year of the occupation. In doing so, the research uncovered many important elements hitherto unknown about the Japanese occupation regarding health and medical interventions in a tense war situation with limited resources.

The main question surrounding the occupation of Malaya was Japan’s state of preparedness to govern the area after the withdrawal of the British. The ease with which Japan took over Malaya has been commented on frequently and in the face of a lack of sources some scholars assumed that this planning extended to the areas of administration and governance as well. However, this research has shown that the Japanese structures of governance in Malaya were inadequate to deal with the occupation conditions. The structure itself changed numerous times in the short 1941-1945 period, and high-level personnel were transferred in and out of Malaya offering little continuity. Moreover, personnel stationed in Malaya had little specific knowledge of the country and its people despite the presence of a long-standing Japanese community in Malaya.

This has particular implications for the medical and health conditions of Malaya. Before the war, health facilities and medical interventions designed to keep malaria, beri-beri and other diseases at bay was at a complex level. Focusing on malaria, the combination of malaria prevention measures, government and business intervention in order to ensure the health of labourers sufficient to running plantations necessitated a high level of bureaucracy, the availability of medicine and cooperation of the recipients.

Such conditions could not be replicated during war time, making it difficult to maintain a semblance of pre-war production of raw materials or health of the population. Furthermore, the difficult communications status between Malaya and neighbouring countries meant that medical expertise did not reach those that needed it the most and knowledge on malaria from other parts of the Japanese empire could not necessarily reach Malaya nor be implemented.

In conclusion, the research has allowed for greater insight into the medical circumstances of Malaya during the Japanese occupation and the reasons for the poor state of health during this time. The Japanese, having conquered Malaya, did not have much knowledge about the country and its running and much effort was spent on compiling basic information about available manpower and resources. This is in stark contrast to newspaper reporting during this time from inside Malaya which continually highlighted the medical efforts of the Japanese in Malaya. Most of these efforts concentrated in the cities while the main areas affected by malaria have typically been in plantations. Only in 1944 were anti-malarial officers trained with a local handbook, but even then the resources needed, such as anti-malarial oils and quinine, were in short supply and hoarded for military purposes. Continued research is needed in order to fully map the medical conditions of the occupation period

Related publications:

Sandra Khor Manickam, Book review of Melber, Takuma (2017) Zwischen Kollaboration und Widerstand. Die japanische Besatzung in Malaya und Singapur 1942-1945 [Between Collaboration and Resistance: The Japanese Occupation in Malaya and Singapore, 1942-1945]. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag. Bunron – Zeitschrift für literaturwissenschaftliche Japanforschung. 2019.

Sandra Khor Manickam, "Wartime imaginings of an archipelagic community: Fajar Asia and the quest for peninsula Malayan and Indonesian unity", Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 18:3 (2017):347-363. Corrigendum in IACS December 2017.

Sandra Khor Manickam and Iioka Naoko, “Translation of Japanese Entries in the Bibliography on the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, Singapore and Northern Borneo, 1941-1945,” Online resource, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Library, March 2017.

Sandra Khor Manickam, "Looking for Din after the War", in End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World, Edited by David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, NIAS Press, 2016, pp. 208-9.

Selected presentations:

Sandra Khor Manickam, "Occupied or colonized? Conceptual issues in studying the Japanese occupation of Malaya" ICAS 11, Leiden, June 2019

Sandra Khor Manickam, "The Japanese... had little or no knowledge of the disease: Malaria as the site of colonial knowledge claims." University of Sydney, Asian Studies Association of Australia. 3 July 2018.


Portrait of Sandra Manickam
Van der Goot Building
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062 PA

Vergelijk @count opleiding

  • @title

    • Tijdsduur: @duration
Vergelijk opleidingen