Health and Healing in Africa

s17_history205Course numbers: HISTORY 205.01, GLHLTH 201.01


Course codes: CCI, STS, CIV, SS


Course description:

“Health and Healing in Africa” introduces students to how people in various parts of Africa experienced, explained, and treated “health” and “illness” before and during contact with biomedicine. We will examine how people chose, and continue to choose, from multiple etiologies and therapies, including biomedicine. The course stresses the particular historical contexts—i.e., the specifics of time and place—that shaped systems of health and healing. In particular, we will query the connections between illness, healing, and various forms of power including the powers of colonial states, nation-states, and the global post-colonial order.

Instructor: Professor Jan Ewald

Professor Ewald’s specialty in the history of Africa led her, in both teaching and research, to explore how Africans participated in the major currents of world history since about 1700. Professor Ewald’s book “Soldiers, Traders, and Slaves: State Formation and Economic Transformation in the Greater Nile Valley, 1700-1885” uses oral traditions as well as written sources to reconstruct how people in a dangerous frontier zone responded to predatory empires, commercial capitalism, slave raiding, and militant Islam. The book, as well as several articles, analyzes not only how people constructed a small kingdom but also how they continually reconstructed their memories of that kingdom.

Following the paths of slaves from the Nile valley led Professor Ewald to the shores of the Indian Ocean and beyond. Professor Ewald in now working on a second major project, “Motley Crews: Indian and African Seafarers on English Vessels in the Indian Ocean, c. 1600-1900.” This project analyzes two forms of labor control–indentures and slavery–in a maritime setting. Not only Africans, but also Asians and Europeans, are the main actors; center stage is the Indian Ocean bounded by the crescent of shore from Bombay through the Arabian coast to the African Swahili coast; the action takes lace in the tumultuous centuries, especially after 1750, when a system of slavery rose and fell; Asian and African autonomy gave way to European dominance; and steam engines replaced sailing vessels on the ocean