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, 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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