Africa at Noon on March 29, 2017

“When Doctors Were Kings: Exploring the Remains of a Colonial Medical Utopia in East Cameroon”

Guillaume Lachenal
Associate Professor in History of Science
Université Paris Diderot

Download Poster (pdf)

Time and Location

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI


During World War II, a French colonial doctor named Doctor David received full and exclusive authority on the entire region of the Upper-Nyong, in the forests of East-Cameroon. His aim was to conduit a real-life “experiment” to transform and reinvent native society through a radical form of social medicine. In the last 5 years, I have traveled regularly in that region, to explore the traces and remains left by that strange medical utopia – songs and memories, ruined buildings and abandoned plantations. Between medical history, anthropology of memory and archeology, this research is a reflection on the presences of the colonial past in contemporary Cameroon.


Guillaume Lachenal is Associate Professor in History of Science at the University of Paris Diderot. His research explores the history and anthropology of biomedicine in Africa, from colonialism to the “global health” era. His first book Le Médicament qui devait sauver l’Afrique (Paris, La Découverte, 2014, American translation forthcoming at Johns Hopkins University Press), is the biography of a wonder drug against sleeping sickness, which caused terrible therapeutic accidents in colonial Africa. He recently published Le médecin qui voulut être roi (The doctor who would be king, Le Seuil, Paris, 2017), an exploration of the traces of Dr David’s medical utopias from Africa to the Pacific.