The bacteriological state and the last wave of cholera: Victor Babeș

The public hygiene project that would unite the healthy bodies inside the democratic nation stumbled, in the 1880s and 1890s, on the re-born “peasant question” but also on new anxieties regarding nation, race, numbers, health and degeneration, as C. Istrati and others were quick to expose in their books, conferences, and brochures. The emergence of Pasteurization and bacteriology – that seemed to, potentially, solve this national fracture – was a mixed blessing.Victor Babeş, the man behind the new bacteriology laboratory, backed by a more strictly scientific discourse, mounted a harsh attack on the old pragmatic ways of public hygiene. The new man, trained in Vienna and Budapest but also at Pasteur’s and Koch’s institutes, tried to co-opt the bacteria in his laboratory and to create a new medical reform, a pasteurization of Romania. The failure of the old medical police was announced and framed by Victor Babeş’ attempt to create a new sanitary state founded on the scientific perspective opened by bacteriology.

The unitary and well connected national hygienic environment, the body of the nation that the older public hygiene sketched but was unable to substantiate, emerged as the new area of intervention for a state reform directly informed and guided by the “new sanitary sciences”, with bacteriology at its core.


  • Babeș, V (1894) L’État en face des nouvelles recherches bactériologiques. Bucharest: Litho-Typographie Carol Göbl, 1894;
  • Babeș, V (1901) Regenerarea Poporului Român. Bucharest: I. V. Socecu, 1901.


  • Latour, B (1988) The Pasteurization of France, Harvard University Press [fragments];
  • Babeș, Victor and Victor Cornil. Les Bactéries et leur role dans l’anatomie et l’histologie pathologique des maladies infectieuses, Paris: Felix Alcan, 1890.