HSS Workshop: Science in a Colonial Context. Sleeping Sickness, Race, and Modern Medicine in sub-Saharan Africa, 1840-1940

Sarah Ehlers, University of Leicester

Monday, February 27, 2017 - 3:30pm

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

337 Cohen Hall

At the beginning of the 20th century, sleeping sickness epidemics broke out in different parts of colonial Africa. Spreading rapidly, the disease death tolls among the local populations and posed challenging administrative issues for the colonial authorities. At the same time, the was a fascinating field of inquiry for tropical physicians and scientists. This paper addresses the transnational history of colonial health programs to combat sleeping sickness which ranged from extensive data collection, to chemotherapeutic drug trials, environmental interventions, and exterminating the big game and other host animals in the vicinity of human habitations. Following British, French, Belgian and German doctors and researchers from the late 19th century to the 1940s, I investigate how they connected humans to broader ecologies and the ways racial thinking permeated scientic conceptions of disease. This paper argues that entanglements between scientific knowledge production, medial concerns and colonial governance shaped medical practice both in the colonies and in Europe.