A history of epidemic illness and political change, The Politics of Disease Control focuses on epidemics of sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika in the early twentieth century as well as the colonial public health programs designed to control them. Mari K. Webel prioritizes local histories of populations in the Great Lakes region to put the successes and failures of a widely used colonial public health intervention—the sleeping sickness camp—into dialogue with African strategies to mitigate illness and death in the past. Webel draws case studies from colonial Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda to frame her arguments within a zone of vigorous mobility and exchange in eastern Africa, where African states engaged with the Belgian, British, and German empires. Situating sleeping sickness control within African intellectual worlds and political dynamics, The Politics of Disease Control connects responses to sleeping sickness with experiences of historical epidemics such as plague, cholera, and smallpox, demonstrating important continuities before and after colonial incursion. African strategies to mitigate disease, Webel shows, fundamentally shaped colonial disease prevention programs in a crucial moment of political and social change.
Mari K. Webel is assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a specialist in modern African history and the histories of public health, healing, and medicine.
“Rather than examining sleeping sickness controls relational (or reactive) to colonial interventions, Weber instead puts Africans’ understandings of the problem, in all their complex diversity, at centre stage…. The result is a book which is both sensitive and remarkable. Setting the bar to new heights, this book does an excellent job of effectively decentralising the western historical narratives that so many of us have tacitly absorbed, and perpetuated, for so long.”
— European Journal for the History of Medicine and Health
“Striking a deft balance between historical analysis and training historical attention to contemporary global health endeavors in Africa, Webel makes a substantial, original contribution to the history of science and medicine in Africa, the relationship between public health and politics in early colonial Africa, and African history more broadly.”
“Reading Mari Webel’s history of sleeping sickness control in German colonial East Africa in a time of global pandemic feels disturbingly relevant.”
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