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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Lynn M. Thomas
HIST 490
Seattle Campus

Topics in History

Examines special topics in history.

Class description

This course will explore health and illness -- as core moral and political concepts, and as material conditions -- in nineteenth- and twentieth-century African history. We will focus on the influence of colonial and postcolonial history on patterns of health and health care in sub-Saharan Africa. We will critically analyze Western representations of health and illness in Africa as well as examine the history and anthropology of these issues on-the-ground in Africa. As sub-Saharan Africa is a vast and diverse place with long and rich history, we will not be able to cover it all in ten week. To develop a deeper understanding of the various and complex issues entailed in health and illness, we will pay particular attention to the history of South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This course will address the following questions: How have various people in Africa defined and sought to insure health and restore well-being? In what ways have their understandings and strategies changed and persisted from the precolonial past to the postcolonial present? How have economic, demographic, political, ecological, and social processes shaped patterns of malnutrition and the spread of epidemic diseases including influenza and AIDS? What are the strengths and weaknesses of different scholarly approaches to understanding health and illness in Africa?

To gain an appreciation of the variety of ways in which historical actors, historians, and anthropologists have understood and interpreted health and illness in Africa, we will examine a range of source materials including life histories, government documents, oral testimonies, autobiographies, newspaper clippings, and video documentaries as well as scholarly essays and books.

Student learning goals

1. to understand how African conceptions of health and illness became entangled with Western ones over the past two hundred years

2. to appreciate how the history of colonialism and postcolonial history has shaped issues of health and illness in present-day

3. to gain a critical and informed perspective on popular representations of illness in Africa

4. to grasp the complexity of the challenges facing present-day health systems in Africa

5. to improve critical reading, writing, and speaking skills

General method of instruction

Mix of lecture, discussion, in-class writing and debating exercises.

Recommended preparation

Some prior coursework in history and/or African Studies recommended.

Class assignments and grading

Take-home essays, in-class quizzes, and optional research paper.

Final class grades will be based on participation, essays, and quizzes.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Lynn M. Thomas
Date: 01/25/2008