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Week 15: Medicine in Africa: Empire

Lecturer: Kathleen Vongsathorn

This week we will investigate the relationship between empire, health and medicine. With a particular focus on empire in Africa, we will explore the motivations that influenced the provision of healthcare in the colonial world; how medicine and theories of race related to ideologies of empire; and how indigenous and colonial medical ideas and practices interacted and competed. Who was perceived to have authority in the search for health, and why? What legacies of colonial medicine remain, and are the same ideologies and priorities that defined colonial medicine still prominent today?


Discussion/Essay Questions:

• What was the relationship between medicine and Empire?

• In what ways did indigenous medical practices and indigenous meanings of sickness and health conflict with colonial notions and colonial medical practices?

• What priorities have driven the provision of medicine in the colonial world?

• Was ‘racial science’ necessary to the expansion and/or survival of Empire?


Required Readings:

Maryinez Lyons, The Colonial Disease. A Social History of Sleeping Sickness in Northern Zaire, 1900-1940 (Cambridge, 1992). Ch. 7: The campaign. Part one: sleeping sickness and social medicine, pp. 102-136 (e-book)

Karen Flint, 'Competition, Race, and Professionalization: Healers and White Medical Practitioners in Natal, South Africa in the Early Twentieth Century', Social History of Medicine, 14.2 (2001), 199-221 (e-journal)


Further Readings:

Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989)

Morag Bell, 'The Pestilence That Walketh in Darkness'. Imperial Health, Gender and Images of South Africa c. 1880-1910’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 18 (1993), 327-341 JSTOR

Bryan Callahan, “‘Veni, VD, Vici’? Reassessing the Ila Syphilis Epidemic,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 23.3 (1997), pp. 421-440.

Jean Comaroff, “The Diseased Heart of Africa: Medicine, Colonialism, and the Black Body,” in Shirley Lindenbaum and Margaret Lock (eds.), Knowledge, Power, and Practice: The Anthropology of Medicine and Everyday Life (1993), pp. 305-329.

Waltraud Ernst and Bernard Harris (eds), Race, Science, and Medicine, 1700-1960 (London, 1999).

Feierman, S., ‘Struggles for Control: The Social Roots of Health and Healing in Modern Africa’, African Studies Review, 28.2/3 (1985), 73-147.

Karen Flint, Healing Traditions: African Medicine, Cultural Exchange, and Competition in South Africa, 1820-1948 (2008).

Nancy Rose Hunt, “‘Le Bebe en Brousse’: European Women, African Birth Spacing and Colonial Intervention in Breast Feeding in the Belgian Congo,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 21.3 (1988), pp. 401-432.

Maryinez Lyons, The Colonial Disease: A Social History of Sleeping Sickness in Northern Zaire, 1900-1940 (Cambridge, 1992). E-book

Roy Macleod and Milton Lewis (eds), Disease, Medicine and Empire: Perspectives on Western Medicine and the Experience of European Expansion (London, 1988).

Randall Packard, “The Invention of the ‘Tropical Worker’: Medical Research and the Quest for Central African Labor on the South African Gold Mines, 1903-36,” Journal of African History, 34 (1993), pp. 271-292.

Jonathan Sadowsky, 'Psychiatry and Colonial Ideology in Nigeria', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 71 (1997), 94-111 E-Journal

Lynn M. Thomas, ‘Imperial Concerns and 'Women's Affairs': State Efforts to Regulate Clitoridectomy and Eradicate Abortion in Meru, Kenya, c. 1910-1950’, The Journal of African History, 39, (1998), 121-145 JSTOR

Megan Vaughan, Curing Their Ills (Stanford, 1991).

Megan Vaughan, ‘Healing and Curing: Issues in the Social History and Anthropology of Medicine in Africa’, Social History of Medicine, 7 (1994), pp. 283-295. E-journal

Luise White, “‘They Could Make Their Victims Dull’: Genders and Genres, Fantasies and Cures in Colonial Southern Uganda,” American Historical Review, 100.5 (Dec 1995), pp. 1379-1402.