Dr. Julia Cummiskey Delivers Conference Keynote

Dr. Julia Cummiskey delivered one of the keynote addresses at the Biennial Conference of the Australia and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine. The conference focussed on social and cultural histories of health and medicine that specifically address past, present, or future innovation. It addressed urgency and innovation related to the identification, diagnosis, and management of disease in a transnational context, the health implications of climate change and environmental modification, Indigenous health, and the intersection of health and medicine with social issues.

Dr. Cummiskey’s Talk:

Between “Local” and “Global”: International Virus Research and African Innovation in 20th Century Uganda

Global health is one of the chief areas in which African and foreign institutions interact today. Billions of dollars are invested in global health projects on the continent, many involving strategically selected “local partners”. In the discourse of these projects, local and global are often framed as complementary but distinct categories of people, institutions, traditions, and practices. Innovation is understood to be the product of global actors in global institutions, while implementation is facilitated by local partners. But the history of biomedical research at one such site, the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), shows that these categories are unstable and mutable, and that people and institutions have mobilized both categories to attract funding, professional prestige, and research opportunities. Founded in 1936 as a joint venture of the Rockefeller International Health Division and the British colonial government, the UVRI has made significant contributions to global knowledge about yellow fever, Zika virus, Burkitt’s lymphoma, and HIV/AIDS, among many other topics. To demonstrate the limits of the local/global dichotomy in international health projects, this talk analyzes the experiences of expatriate and Ugandan researchers who studied yellow fever in colonial Uganda (1936-1960); Burkitt’s lymphoma during the period of Africanization and Ugandan Independence (1961-1979); and HIV/AIDS in the post-Amin period and the Museveni presidency (1980-2000). It shows that the projects of making and deploying knowledge of specific research sites in Uganda substantively remade many of those sites into places tailored to produce knowledge about viruses. The history of the scientists at the UVRI transforms our understanding of the nature of local and international expertise, about Africa as a site of biomedical innovation, and about the evolution of global health research over the course of the 20th century.

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