Lecture Series: Decolonising Global Health: History and Legacy

Collage of images showing scenes representing decolonising global health

In our debates about Decolonising Global Health and Black Lives Matter, students and staff have regularly commented that LSHTM should do more to raise awareness of colonial history, and its continuing relevance to global health. In response to this, the History Centre has run a series of lectures for any interested students and staff. 

Module outline

A series of six sessions were co-delivered by Alex Mold, Martin Gorsky, Clare Chandler and Hayley Brown. They introduced historical content to stimulate interactive reflection on implications for the present.

Running time of 1 hour 15 minutes, with a framework of: introduction (5 minutes); lecture section (c. 40 minutes); breakout room groups (15-20 minutes); plenary conclusion (c.10 minutes).

Lectures 2021-22

Full details, including lecture recordings, can be found for this series on Moodle.

7 October 2021
Lecture 1: Empires and Colonialism Before c.1900 – How do we Remember?

14 October 2021
Lecture 2: Colonialism and ‘Tropical Medicine’ – Universal or Western Knowledge?

21 October 2021
Lecture 3: From Colonialism to Development, 1900-1970s

28 October 2021
Lecture 4: Global Health Organisations and Western Power

11 November 2021
Lecture 5: Colonial Legacies in High-Income Countries

18 November 2021
Lecture 6: Understanding and Resolving Colonial Legacies

Lectures 2020-21

6 October 2020
Session 1: Empires, Colonialism and ‘Tropical Medicine’ before c.1900

This lecture introduces key concepts and information about Western imperialism before the 20th century.  We discuss processes of expropriation and exploitation, and their health impacts on indigenous and enslaved populations.  We then explore how the imperial context shaped the early phase of Western medicine’s globalisation.

20 October 2020
Session 2: Understanding Colonialism and Tropical Medicine

This lecture introduces the perspectives of scholars who have analysed imperialism.  We ask how they have explained the motivations for colonialism, and how they have understood the rise and eventual abolition of slavery.  We then examine the historiography of tropical medicine – to what extent was it just a ‘tool of empire’?

10 November 2020
Session 3: End of Empire, 1900-1970s

This lecture focuses first on imperialism in the early 20th century, looking at how  colonial ‘development’ first came on the agenda, and what role health and welfare played.  We then deal with the end of empire, showing through case studies how independence was won.  How well-prepared were the post-colonial nations to provide health systems for the people?  

24 November 2020
Session 4: Understanding Colonial/Post-colonial Attitudes

This lecture introduces the work of thinkers who illuminate the impact of colonialism.  We consider theorists of race like Fanon, and of state power like Foucault and Mbembe.  Finally we look at the debates over development – was it ever more than an exercise of soft power? And what role did medicine play?

20 January 2021
Session 5: Global Health Organisations and Western Power

This lecture details the rise of international health organisations, from the post-war WHO and World Bank to today’s public/private partnerships.  Were they inclusive of the Global South? We then sketch the main policy shifts in global heath since 1948, from vertical disease programmes, to Health For All, to structural adjustment, to the SDGs.

3 February 2021
Session 6: What is Colonial about Global Health?

This lecture introduces theoretical approaches from political science which can help us understand the history of international health organisations.  We then look at the explanations for changing pattern of global health policy since the end of empire, asking to what extent they continued to be informed by colonial attitudes. 

3 March 2021
Session 7: Colonial Legacies in High-Income Countries

This lecture turns the lens back to the West, to reflect on medicine and health in post-imperial, multi-ethnic societies like Britain, the US and New Zealand.  How has persistent inequality shaped health systems and patient experience from the 1950s to the time of COVID 19? The speakers will be Lioba Hirsch, Alex Mold and Hayley Brown.

17 March 2021
Session 8: Understanding and Resolving Colonial Legacies

In the final lecture of our series, we offer some closing reflections on the legacy of colonialism for global health and the strategies available to address this.  We begin by placing the 'decolonising' movement in the broader perspective of contemporary history, and then ask what scope there is for global health institutions to take action today.  Next, we discuss the possibilities of restitution, continuing our look at Aotearoa/New Zealand as a case study.  We finish by considering implications for ourselves as global health actors.

Image credits (left to right): ‘Britannia pointing to Sanatogen, Formamint, and German colonies in Africa and the East Indies as new British possessions.’ Colour process print after E.F. Skinner.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) ; ‘Native workers washing for diamonds, supervised by their colonial masters, in South America (?). ‘Etching after J. Boilly.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0); ‘Sleeping sickness map of French Congo’, LSHTM Assetbank, 1484; ‘A medical officer taking a sample of blood from an inhabitant of Buruma Island, suffering from sleeping sickness. Photograph, 1965, after photograph 1902.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0); ‘People in a street market in South Africa; representing rights and responsibilities in avoidance and treatment of AIDS’. Lithograph after Moving Images, ca. 1996.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).