Nurse going native: Language and identity in letters from Africa and the British West Indies. Academic Article uri icon


  • Colonial nurses were ideal agents of colonial medicine's supposed beneficence: while practising and teaching "hygiene", they also reinforced racial and cultural separation. In some cases, however, the nurses took their role as healers and teachers of local populations much more seriously than was authorized implicitly by their employer. This article analyses the circulation of original life writing materials between one nurse, CC, and the Colonial Nursing Association, in order to chart the considerable anxiety around the concept of nurses' cross-cultural and cross-racial sympathy during the interwar period. I draw upon colonial language studies and women's travel writing analysis in order to demonstrate that many of these concerns centred on issues of language and communication. By speaking local languages, it was feared that colonial nurses' loyalty would shift from their employer towards their indigenous patients. This essay places the concept of "going native" within the contexts of nineteenth-century empire literature, racial anthropology and ethnology, in order to suggest that concerns about nurses "going native" were influenced by discourses of degeneration and acclimatization.

published proceedings

  • J Commonw Lit

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Howell, J. M

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Howell, Jessica M

publication date

  • March 2016