The Centre for History in Public Health, including the Health Systems in History team, holds a regular series of public events including seminars and conferences. For those who cannot attend events in person, an audio recording is usually available. Full details of upcoming events can be found on the Centre website.

History Centre seminar series, Autumn 2020

Suranga Dolamulla, University of York. “Affinity and resistance to antibiotics and its internationalisation.”

Dr Suranga Dolamulla holds a prestigious Wellcome Trust Research Award in the Medical Humanities for Health Professionals and is a Senior Research Fellow employed by the Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH), which is housed within the Department of History. He is a health policy researcher, designer and manager, and a practicing clinician and senior Sri Lankan government official (he currently serves as the Director of Tertiary Care Services within the Ministry of Health, which is the focal point for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of hospital and clinical services throughout the country).  Suranga obtained his preliminary medical degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a Masters and MD in Medical Administration from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has travelled widely for specialist training, and this has included stints at the National Training Center in Obu, Japan; the Southern Medical College, China, and, most recently, at Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

Abstract: Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a public health threat which is currently seen to pose serious challenges to the effective management of infectious diseases in local, regional and international contexts. This presentation will examine the many complexities related to the invention, manufacturing, supply and the use and conceptions of misuse of antibiotics from the 1940s onwards. The aim is here to examine multiple understandings and interpretations of the clinical, social, political and economic drivers of AMR, which was – and remains – a multi-sectoral problem.

Suranga will explore the roles played by the WHO in enabling research into, and the production and supply of, antibiotics between 1948 and 1968, drawing on a range of archival materials. For the purposes of analysis, the WHO is not seen as a monolith, but as an intricate network of departments with distinct – and sometimes competing – interests. These intricacies existed both at the level of the WHO HQ and each Regional Office, and Suranga will argue that this shaped both messaging about the promotion of antibiotic use and the dangers of AMR, and that these narratives have co-existed side-by-side. Understanding this recent history of international action based on antibiotic enables us to work with a more self-critical, historically accurate and policy-relevant understanding of the ‘rationalities’ of use, as the socio-political challenges facing current challenges facing present AMR advocacy at all different levels of governance.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020, 1pm – 2pm.


Erica Wald, Goldsmiths. “Punishing the prostitute and protecting the soldier: the Lal Bazaar, lock hospital and the treatment of venereal disease in colonial India.”

Dr Erica Wald is a Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Goldsmiths, University of London. She was awarded her PhD in 2009 from Trinity College, Cambridge. She has taught at both the LSE and Goldsmiths. Together with Professor Richard Grayson, she co-edits the British Journal of Military History.

Abstract: The British Army in India had a serious and enduring problem with venereal disease. At any given point across the nineteenth century, roughly 25% of its European troops were in hospital, with some form of what were known as ‘vice’-related illnesses, the most frequently diagnosed of which was syphilis.

In response to this, medical and commanding offers joined forces to construct a punitive treatment system which targeted the women seen to be the root cause of this problem – those Indian women deemed to be ‘common prostitutes’. However, the system continually failed to accomplish any of its aims.

This talk will explore the construction, operation and consequences of the ways in which syphilis was approached in the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020, 1pm – 2pm


Steven Palmer, University of Windsor (Canada), “Rockefeller Foundation parasitism and the peripheral origins of global health”.

Steven Palmer, Professor of History at the University of Windsor in Canada, is the author of Launching Global Health: The Caribbean Odyssey of the Rockefeller Foundation (2010) and, with Marcos Cueto, Medicine and Public Health in Latin America: A History (2015). From 2006-2016 he held the Canada Research Chair in History of International Health at the University of Windsor.

Abstract: The Rockefeller Foundation invented an international health system virtually overnight in 1914, simultaneously launching a pilot project throughout Central America and the British Caribbean to treat hookworm disease and lay the foundations of permanent departments of health under the auspices of its International Health Board.

In 1916 this program was extended to post-colonial countries and colonial territories throughout the world. In each case, however, local research on hookworm disease and programs to treat it preceded the Foundation. Indeed, we might see the RF as itself an “artful parasite” operating on a global scale, feeding off these nodes of creative local public health to give life to a new international health system.

Steven’s worm’s eye view attempts to restore the agency of peripheral and subordinate actors to the origins story of global health, and raises a number of methodological issues that may be worth considering as scholars, practitioners and activists devote greater attention to the decolonization of global health.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020, 4pm – 5.30pm


Stuart Anderson, LSHTM, “Legacy of Empire: Pharmacy, medicines & slavery in the British West Indies, 1650-1914″.

Stuart Anderson is emeritus professor in pharmacy history at the Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Abstract: In the late 19th century medical and pharmaceutical authorities in Britain took a series of actions that together represented attempts to standardise the use of medicines and the practice of pharmacy throughout the British Empire. By 1914, the General Medical Council had declared that the British Pharmacopoeia was ‘suitable for the whole Empire’; and the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain had published arrangements for the reciprocal recognition of colonial pharmacy qualifications.

A British model of pharmacy had emerged. But when we ask how ‘British’ pharmacy was in 1914, we find very different situations in the 70 colonies. The regulation of medicines and the development of pharmacy education and practice depended heavily on local circumstances. In this seminar I explore the use of medicines and the role of pharmacy in the British West Indies during and after the age of slavery. I examine the origins of English involvement in the region, the development of sugar plantations and slavery, and those providing medical care on plantations. Slavery presented lucrative opportunities to those engaged in the supply of medicines, involving the export of large quantities of emetics, purgatives and other drugs. Much trade took place through networks such as Quakers. Whilst English druggists set up shop at the end of slavery, most struggled to make a living.

When Jamaica became a Crown Colony in 1865 British pharmacy legislation was enacted, but had little impact on the local population. I consider the extent to which pharmacy was ‘British’ by 1914, and conclude that the legacy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020, 4pm – 5.15pm


Alexandre White, Johns Hopkins, “Pricing Pandemics: Necrofinance and the World Bank”.

Dr Alexandre White joined the Johns Hopkins Faculty in 2019 after completing a Provost’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the university. He earned his B.A. in Black Studies from Amherst College, his MSc. in Sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science and his PhD in Sociology from Boston University. He is jointly affiliated with the Department of the History of Medicine as an Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and is an Associate Director for the Johns Hopkins Center For Medical Humanities and Social Medicine.

Abstract: In the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility we see a transformation in how epidemic threat is quantified, how those suffering are constituted and realized in the responses to epidemic. The glaring weaknesses in the West African Ebola response exposed the limits of the World Health Organization, existing global health responses and the reliance on global charity.

Rather than devoting significant funds to health systems development or holistic strategies of epidemic prevention, the World Bank sought to find a solution in the domain of finance and capital markets speculation. In doing so it produced a novel form of global finance, one for which the lives of populations can be abstracted to financial value and risk. This raises the question of what are the potential roles of capital markets in infectious disease management? How is epidemic risk assessed when focused through the manifold lenses of finance?

This seminar explores the history of catastrophe financing products and the contemporary history of international epidemic response to discern the roots of the PEF. Examining both the previous West African Ebola Virus Epidemic (2013-2016) as well other recent epidemics, Alexandre will demonstrate which assumptions of epidemic threat undergird the World Bank’s PEF structure and how it breaks from previous frameworks of pandemic threat appraisal such as the World Health Organization’s Public Health Emergency of International Concern designation.

Drawing upon the theories of Achille Mbembe, Jean Baudrillard and others this talk examines the roots of pandemic speculation and locates its role within the larger ecosystem of global infectious disease control.

The event is open to all, and the key audience includes those with an interest in health financing, health systems strengthening, and the history and sociology of epidemic disease control.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020, 4pm – 5.15pm


Chisomo Kalinga, Edinburgh, “Notions of entanglement between the mind, the body and the soul: The role of literature in understanding health in Malawi”.

Dr Chisomo Kalinga is a Wellcome-funded postdoctoral fellow in the medical humanities at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Her current Wellcome-funded project is titled ‘Ulimbaso ‘You will be strong again’: How literary aesthetics and storytelling inform concepts of health and wellbeing in Malawi’. Which engages how indigenous literary practices (performance, form and aesthetics) are used to address community health. Her research interests are disease (specifically sexually transmitted infections), illness and wellbeing, biomedicine, traditional healing and witchcraft and their narrative representation in African oral and print literatures.

Scholarly attention to the critical health and medical humanities has expanded significantly in the 21st century. However, globally, their representations are dominated by Western discourses and thinkers. This seminar examines the meaning of African studies of literature and health by introducing key themes, concepts and practices that are emerging from Malawi.

Building upon Professor Steve Chimomobo’s work on HIV & AIDS in Malawian Literature, this talk engages narratives of health from Dr Kalinga’s ongoing field studies across Malawi. From representations of the body, aesthetics of representing health and well-being, this paper puts forward an argument that engages the ways in which ordinary citizens engage with storytelling about health and the shared or disparate themes in both traditional and modern representations of health and the body. It advocates for the beginning of real dialogue with diverse medical cultures and pedagogies that challenges Western knowledge hierarchies.

Thursday, 3 December 2020, 1pm – 2.15pm


History Centre seminar series, Spring 2019

Alex Medcalf and Joao Nunes, University of York. “”Health for All at 40′: The history and politics of community health worker programmes”

Dr Alexander Medcalf is a Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of York, Department of History, and Deputy Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories.

Dr Joao Nunes is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics, University of York. Author of the book “Security, Emancipation and the Politics of Health” and of articles in journals such as Review of International Studies, Third World Quarterly, Security Dialogue and Medical History, among others.

Abstract:  This presentation will reflect upon the trajectory of ‘Health for All’, forty years after Alma-Ata and at a time when the SDG agenda and the WHO leadership are pushing towards reenergizing the idea of universal health care. It does so by reflecting on community health worker programmes. Community health worker (CHW) is the name commonly given to close-to-community providers with no specialized medical training who traditionally operate as links between doctors, nurses and remote or hard to reach groups. CHWs are normally identified with the promotion of bespoke, community-based solutions attuned to the health needs of local groups; the promotion of community empowerment and social justice; and the redressing of inequalities. This presentation argues that the picture is much more complicated, and an assessment of the impact of CHW programmes needs to take into account a historical-based analysis of the context in which CHW programmes were designed, implemented and presented. It also requires a practice-based analysis of the complex political roles assumed by CHWs in their everyday work. Drawing on historical sources spanning the period from Alma-Ata to the present day, and also extensive fieldwork with the Brazilian CHW programme, this presentation will raise some of the most important issues that need be considered when assessing the potential of CHWs to help deliver ‘Health for All’.

Wednesday,  30th January 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG9, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Marissa Mika, UCL. “Toxic Drugs and Invisible Harms: Chemo-waste on an African Cancer Ward”

Marissa Mika is joining the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda as Head of Humanities and Social Sciences in spring 2019. She holds a PhD (2015) in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania and an MHS (2007) in International Health from Johns Hopkins. Before teaching and studying African history, she worked in international development and public health. Since 2002, she has lived for extended periods of time in South Africa, Togo and Uganda. Her research has been supported by a variety of institutions including the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

Abstract:  When we think of cancer and the South, we often think of a place “without oncology” particularly in Africa where biomedical interventions have long been associated with addressing infectious diseases and improving maternal and child health. As the onco-technological fixes of radiotherapy and chemotherapy slowly roll out on the continent, so too do the questions about how to procure radiotherapy sources and chemotherapy vials, and what happens to these toxic treatments after they burn and poison. This talk offers a deep historical and ethnographic analysis of the issue of procuring, reusing, and disposing of the stuff of oncological work at the Uganda Cancer Institute, where I have worked since 2010. The Institute began fifty years ago as a site of chemotherapy research and experiment. Today it serves as the key site of public oncology goods in the Great Lakes Region, seeing over 40,000 patients a year. I take us into the material practices, embodied experiences, and spatial politics of administering drugs that have powerful, violent effects. The drugs I draw out three central contradictions in oncological practice at the UCI: the thin line between disposability and reuse; the contradictions of scarcity in a place of abundance; and the (longstanding) theme of healing and harming in health work.

Thursday, 7th February 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG9, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Arnab Chakraborty, University of York. “Re-evaluating the medical services in colonial Madras: the subordinate perspectives (1880-1935)”

Arnab Chakraborty is a final year PhD candidate at the University of York. His doctoral research is funded by the Wellcome Trust and is titled ‘Medical transformation in Madras Presidency: military and civilian perspectives (1880-1935)’. His thesis focuses mainly on understanding the colonial medical scenario through the eyes and activities of the different medical services active in Madras during the period. For his thesis, he has done extensive research in the UK, India and also in the Rockefeller archives. His wider research interests include public health, health policies in the context of gender and military in South Asia and elsewhere.

Abstract:  The historiography of Western medicine in colonial India has predominantly been analysed from the perspectives of the elite services – the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and their recruits. These group of people, principally Europeans, were entrusted with the health of British troops, officials and the Europeans living in colonial India. Later on, wealthy Indians were also brought under their ambit in exchange for large sums of money. Unfortunately, perceiving colonial medical practices through the lens of the IMS has remained inadequate to provide a nuanced understanding of the role played by Indians in the semi-urban and rural areas of colonial India.

This paper seeks to examine the contributions of local administration and the role played by the subordinate medical services in the diffusion of Western medical traditions among Indians. The paper uses the Madras Presidency as its case study and argues that hegemony worked in diverse ways among different groups in the province. This will shift the urban-centric focus and examine mostly the rural parts of the Presidency – the district hospitals and dispensaries located in the districts, taluks and villages. The paper intends to flesh out the changes in the Madras medical administration from the late nineteenth century until 1935 to argue how the subordinates were the ones controlling the local medical services, and thus pulling the strings of medical administration in the Presidency. Analysing this will demonstrate the uniqueness of Madras and how it disseminated Western medical care among locals. This will also, I hope, in the future open up new areas of research in understanding health care in other colonial contexts.

Thursday, 14th February 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG9, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Maureen Mackintosh, Open University. “Industrial development as a social determinant of health: historical reflections from Tanzania and Zimbabwe”

Abstract to follow.

Thursday, 21st March 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG9, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Dora Vargha, University of Exeter. “Socialist international health and technical assistance”

Dora Vargha is historian of medicine, science and technology at the University of Exeter, based jointly at the Department of History and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health and is co-editor of Social History of Medicine journal. She has published on vaccine development in Eastern Europe, the Cold War politics of polio, disability in communist Hungary, and epidemic narratives in current global health policies. Her book, Polio Across the Iron Curtain has recently been published with Cambridge University Press.

Abstract:  From the establishment of the World Health Organization in 1948, the question of technical assistance was hotly debated by Eastern European countries. Recuperating from the war and undergoing radical political change, countries of the Socialist Bloc were both recipients and donors of technical assistance in a newly forming system of international health. These countries had specific ideas about the obligations of states and the role of technical aid in health that did not necessarily map on the dominant, US-led interpretation. While there is a growing literature on technical assistance and development between Eastern Europe and the so-called Third World, the role of technology and expertise at the intersection of liberal and socialist international health has been little explored. Through the case of hospital building projects and expert networks from a Hungarian perspective, I ask how we can understand socialist engagement in international health, and how technical aid among the Second and Third worlds fitted into a broader system of technical aid and international health.

Thursday,  4th April 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  Bennett Room (LG80), LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Frances Thirlway, University of York. “My mother smoked like a beagle in a laboratory to get the coupons she needed for a toaster’: tobacco companies and the working-class in postwar Britain

Frances Thirlway is a Research Fellow at the University of York, Department of Sociology. She holds research grants from Cancer Research UK on health inequalities and electronic cigarettes and from the York Centre for Future Health on health inequalities and cannabis/cannabidiol self-medication for pain relief.

Abstract:  I will argue that public health understandings of the threat of tobacco to children and young people are based on a middle class imaginary which draws on historical advertising associating smoking with glamour and consequently fails to understand the nature of tobacco’s continued appeal in working class communities. Taking Embassy Regal as a case study and using oral history interviews and tobacco industry documents, I will show that working class smoking is associated with class and family loyalties, creating ambivalence towards cessation, which may be negatively correlated with social aspiration and pretension. Policy implications will be discussed.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  Lucas Room (LG81), LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Anna Bailey. “Politics Under the Influence. Vodka and Public Policy in Putin’s Russia”

Anna Bailey completed an MRes in East European Studies at SSEES-UCL in 2009, before continuing to doctoral study at SSEES-UCL, where she was supervised by Professor Alena Ledeneva. She was awarded a PhD in Political Science in 2015. Her doctoral research findings form the basis of her book Politics Under the Influence. Vodka and Public Policy in Putin’s Russia, newly-released by Cornell University Press. Her research explores the realities of federal policy formation in the Russian Federation, including the effects of competition between policy stakeholders, and the interaction between formal institutions and informal networks and their prac­tices. She currently works freelance.

Abstract: “You know just how serious a problem alcoholism has become for our country. Frankly speaking, it has taken on the proportions of a national disaster.” So spoke Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 as the government launched a major anti-alcohol initiative. Digging beneath the façades of public interest and government hegemony, I challenge the standard narrative of subsequent alcohol policy as top–down implementation imposed in the interests of public health. Rather, policy is the ad hoc result of battles between policy actors with vested interests. These policy outcomes have sometimes been contrary to the government’s stated aims. In particular, a powerful vodka interest located within the state itself has grown in influence since 2009, and has used the ‘anti-alcohol campaign’ as a front to push policies that reduce the competitiveness of its main rival – the multinational beer industry.

Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG6/7, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building

Previous events from the Health Systems in History team

Health policy making in an era of reform: The New Zealand health system in the 1980s. University of Auckland, New Zealand, 28 February 2018.

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