What remains after epidemics have been controlled?
The river blindness laboratory, used mainly 1950s-80s by British, Kenyan and Tanzanian scientists in Amani Hill Research station in North-Eastern Tanzania, in 2015 (Photo: Geissler)
Epidemic Traces combines social anthropology and medical history to study what remains after epidemics have been controlled. In four sites across Africa, we examine how the leftovers of past epidemics and anti-epidemic measures, from colonial times to the recent past, continue to shape lives and well-being.
Africa’s 20th century colonial and post-colonial history was marked by a sequence of major epidemics and often drastic, sometimes violent, large-scale measures taken against them. Epidemic Traces focuses on enduring material traces of past epidemics and anti-epidemic measures, including architecture and technology, plant ecologies and chemical residuals, residence patterns and agriculture, habitual practices of institutions and professionals, and physical changes of patient bodies, disease vectors and pathogens.
We study these traces ethnographically, attending to social life, relations and interactions around them in the present, and looking at how epidemic remains and residuals are used, given meaning, and contested in everyday social life, framed by wider historical and poltical-economic processes, and in relation to contemporary, emerging concerns with well-being and ill-health. Apart from furthering our knowledge of how successive epidemics, and their control, are intertwined over time, Epidemic Traces contributes to the anthropology of modernist and colonial legacies in Africa, and to the study of traces as lively, generative heritage, that reference – and invite engagement with - both emergent futures and historical pasts.