Course Spotlight: Health, Healing, and Science in Africa

Image of mapCourse Description

Theoretical perspectives from Science and Technology Studies have become increasingly influential in the study of health in Africa in recent years. The scholarly turn toward bio-politics and the examination of vernacular science has challenged the relevance of deeply embedded polarities – traditional versus modern, African healing versus biomedicine – that have long inspired studies of medicine and illness in Africa. The result of these intellectual transformations is that the study of health in Africa is at a particularly vibrant and capacious moment. New frontiers of research and inquiry are developing as a result of conversations among humanists, scientists, and social scientists. This course will examine the historical and anthropological literature on health and disease in Africa, and explore the possibilities and potential pitfalls of deeper engagement by scholars in these fields with those working on the history of science and medicine and beyond. Students will also examine the ways in which different historical perspectives inform and transform our understanding of contemporary developments, such as the emergence of medical humanitarianism and the flourishing of health-related-non-governmental organizations in the Global South.

This seminar coincides with “Big Stories and Close (Up) Research: Health and Science in the African World,” an international conference that will take place at UW-Madison on April 15-16.  As part of the seminar, students will have the opportunity to attend the conference and interact with the presenters, many of whose work we will read over the course of the semester.

Enrollment Details

African Languages and Literature 983: Interdepartmental Seminar in African Studies – Health, Healing, and Science in Africa
3 credits
T 1:20-3:15pm, 1323 Sterling Hall
Spring 2016

This course is cross-listed with African Languages and Literature, Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, and Political Science. 

About the Instructors

Neil Kodesh is a historian of East Africa with a particular emphasis on the Great Lakes region. His research and teaching interests center on health and healing, historical anthropology, and methodologies for writing early African history. His first book, Beyond the Royal Gaze: Clanship and Public Healing in Buganda, won the Melville Herskovits Prize of the African Studies Association. Kodesh’s current project examines the history of medical pluralism in the Great Lakes region.

Claire Wendland is a medical anthropologist whose work focuses on the globalization of biomedicine, particularly in Africa.  Her first book, A Heart for the Work: Journeys through an African Medical School, explores the experiences of medical students learning to be doctors in Malawi, and argues that their responses challenge several longstanding assumptions about biomedicine and about African healing.  Wendland’s current research project looks at changing concepts and loci of risk in childbirth in southeast Africa.