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Healing, Health and Modernity in African History


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Hilary Sapire
  • Assessment: coursework of 1000 words (20%) and a 4000-word essay (80%)

Module description

This course seeks to demonstrate the complex connections between health/illness, patterns of human demography, environmental control and power relations within and between societies at different moments in Africa's past. Special attention is given to former British colonies although comparative perspectives from other African dependencies are an essential part of study. Most of the case studies are drawn from east, central and southern Africa.

A major concern of the course is 'medical imperialism' as a facet of colonialism. We will explore both secular and missionary medical practices in colonial Africa as well as the part played by changing medical discourses in the social construction of the colonial subject. Another theme is the conflict between colonial medics' claims to scientific impartiality and their evident political and cultural motivations to practise medicine as a 'civilising mission'. This focus is complemented by attention to African experiences and beliefs about health, illness and healing. Topics covered within a chronological framework include illness and society in pre-colonial Africa; colonial conquest, 'ecological crisis' and disease; the history and politics of 'tropical medicine'; missionary medicine; the emergence of public health systems, medical services and hospitals; 'race', gender and medical science; 'traditional' healing and colonialism; sanitation and segregation; mines, migrancy and industrial disease; food, hunger and nutrition; madness and 'the African mind'; apartheid and health in South Africa; and sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.