“This is one of the most important books written on Africa in the last ten years—indeed, in any ten years. If this book does not win a prize, then there is truly no justice.…A superb topic, handled here by an accomplished historian at the peak of his powers…The epilogue is simply magnificent. Sparse, almost curt, it makes the case with blinding clarity…The past lives with us. The future is about adaptability, not progress.”
David M. Anderson, University of Warwick
“McCann’s work is truly a must-read for experts in many fields, from public health, agriculture, and history, to politics and development. This book is a brilliant demonstration of the deeply local and highly adaptable nature of disease and mortality, and the ways in which the historical ecology of disease effects household decision-making and trends in food production and economic development on a national scale.”
Focus on the Horn
“This thorough country history … explores malaria’s etiology, effects, and the challenges of minimizing, if not controlling, its impact. Historian McCann draws on decades of Ethiopian field experience and familiarity with its historical sources. … Fascinating anecdotes reveal local disease understandings, often blaming malign spirits (hence the subtitle). …Malaria severely challenges public health, but this study will aid the struggle. Summing Up: Recommended.”
“Amid renewed calls for global malaria eradication, historian James C. McCann delivers a timely reminder of the complexity and resilience of malaria. His argument concerns interdisciplinarity, humility and scale. … McCann’s unique accomplishment is the incorporation of a sophisticated and complex biomedical hypothesis of modern malaria epidemiology into a nuanced historical and cultural narrative. … It will be useful for students of public health and its history.”
Social History of Medicine
Malaria is an infectious disease like no other: it is a dynamic force of nature and Africa’s most deadly and debilitating malady. James C. McCann tells the story of malaria in human, narrative terms and explains the history and ecology of the disease through the science of landscape change. All malaria is local. Instead of examining the disease at global or continental scale, McCann investigates malaria’s adaptation and persistence in a single region, Ethiopia, over time and at several contrasting sites.
Malaria has evolved along with humankind and has adapted to even modern-day technological efforts to eradicate it or to control its movement. Insecticides, such as DDT, drug prophylaxis, development of experimental vaccines, and even molecular-level genetic manipulation have proven to be only temporary fixes. The failure of each stand-alone solution suggests the necessity of a comprehensive ecological understanding of malaria, its transmission, and its persistence, one that accepts its complexity and its local dynamism as fundamental features.
The story of this disease in Ethiopia includes heroes, heroines, witches, spirits—and a very clever insect—as well as the efforts of scientists in entomology, agroecology, parasitology, and epidemiology. Ethiopia is an ideal case for studying the historical human culture of illness, the dynamism of nature’s disease ecology, and its complexity within malaria.
James C. McCann is a professor of history and chair of the Department of Archaeology at Boston University. He is winner of a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2014 Distinguished Scholar of the American Society of Environmental History. More info →
“Malaria is an infectious disease like no other. It is a dynamic, shape-shifting force of nature that constitutes Africa’s most deadly and debilitating vector-borne disease. During its historical coevolution with humankind, malaria has evaded biomedicine’s struggles to eradicate it or control its movement. It has mocked efforts by humans to pursue it through single-stranded tactics: applications of DDT, vaccines, chloroquine tablets, and molecular-level genetic manipulations. Despite biomedicine’s efforts to find solutions in one-dimensional panacea, malaria survives as a unique human af iction of ecology that justifies a study of its history and its future that accepts its complexity and its local dynamism as one of its fundamental features. Though its impact has a global scale, all malaria is complex, resilient—and local.…”
— Introduction: “Malaria’s Metaphor: A Chess Game or a Square Dance”
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This first extensive study of the practice of blood transfusion in Africa traces the history of one of the most important therapies in modern medicine from the period of colonial rule to independence and the AIDS epidemic. The introduction of transfusion held great promise for improving health, but like most new medical practices, transfusion needed to be adapted to the needs of sub-Saharan Africa, for which there was no analogous treatment in traditional African medicine.This
This is the first history of epidemics in South Africa, lethal episodes that shaped this society over three centuries. Focusing on five devastating diseases between 1713 and today—smallpox, bubonic plague, “Spanish influenza,” polio, and HIV/AIDS—the book probes their origins, their catastrophic courses, and their consequences.
In Slavery, Agriculture, and Malaria in the Arabian Peninsula, Benjamin Reilly illuminates a previously unstudied phenomenon: the large-scale employment of people of African ancestry as slaves in agricultural oases within the Arabian Peninsula.
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