Graduate student Leslie Sabakinu explores the intersections of history and medicine in the Belgian Congo. She spoke with African Studies about the importance of her field, her current reading list, and why students should consider studying in Africa.
Hometown: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Field of study: African History
What brought you to Madison?
The African history program. I found it to be a good opportunity to exchange knowledge, understanding of African history.
What was the most surprising thing about Madison?
A small city, not as diverse as I expected! But I like it. I do like the calmness of the place and the nice walking trail along the Lake Mendota.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I am crazy about rabbits and guinea pigs. Both are my favorites pets.
What inspired your study of the medical history of the Belgian Congo?
I was introduced to the medical history of Congo during my undergraduate courses at the University of Kinshasa. Learning about diseases and health issues of the Congolese population during the colonial period captured my attention and motivated me to learn more. That’s why I ended up learning the history of diseases such as malaria during the colonial period and now I’m focusing on the Congolese medical auxiliaries during the colonial period.
How are history and medicine intertwined?
Human societies have always sought to combat disease, relieve pain and even postpone death. And this quest varied from belief, culture and time. So, history can help us to understand how medical ideas and practices evolved over time, what changes were made and how different epochs have approached illness and diseases.
What are you reading now?
Right now, I am reading Tu le leur diras of Clementine Faik-Nzuji. The book relates the author’s family history in Congo, which she has recorded since the beginning of the 1960s and cover the period 1890-2000. I am reading it because her father was a medical assistant during the Belgian colonization before he became a politician, and as my thesis focuses on medical auxiliaries in Belgian-Congo, it’s really a good source I have in my hands!
What advice would you give students who are interested in studying Africa?
Do it! Africa is a big continent, very diversified and there’s so much to learn outside the narrative of the media and others. Just pick a subject, learn a language, and go there to immerse yourself…
What career do you see yourself having 5 years from now?
In 5 years from now, I hope I will be done with my dissertation and be teaching and doing fieldwork in my country and elsewhere.
Profile produced by Kyra Fox.
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