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New publication: Health for all? Histories of international and global health by Mary Brazelton

Posted by C3W Admin on December 15 2021

Health for all? Histories of international and global health. History Compass. 2021;e12700.

Mary Augusta Brazelton, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge


(Abstract): This essay presents a survey of recent work in the history of international and global health from the mid-nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries. It considers longstanding narratives alongside recent studies that have deployed approaches consonant with scholarship in the emerging global history of science and medicine. The cumulative impact of this work is to show how the history of international health has long been embedded in colonial landscapes of power, even as it also fostered revolutionary nationalism and grew from anti-colonial socialist internationalism; and how the absence, as well as presence, of intervention has shaped understandings of global health in recent decades.

In writing this piece, I wanted to fulfil the journal’s remit of providing an overview of recent scholarship in a discipline that is quickly evolving. I also wanted to take the opportunity to think about some of the issues that the Connecting Three Worlds project has already begun to raise in the context of historiography. If familiar narratives of the history of international health have focused on institutions of the Global North – a point I make in the article – then how will the C3W project’s focus on the socialist world reconstruct narratives that change this literature? And what kinds of perspectives might a term like ‘socialist,’ or ‘socialist internationalism,’ include or exclude? At the project’s inaugural workshop in Berlin in September, we discussed the importance of defining and complicating key terms, but also the need to keep our analytic focus sharply tuned. In thinking about the history of international and global health through global history, this tension reappeared as a central methodological challenge for the latter: to seek a comprehensive view, incorporating multiple perspectives, that is still somehow analytically meaningful.

Instructors constitute a key audience for History Compass, and it was important to me to think about pedagogy in providing an overview of the literature. For that reason, I put together a Teaching and Learning Guide to accompany the piece, available here:

The guide offers a guide to key texts, useful websites, and a sample syllabus for a twelve-week course on the topic. In putting it together, I was informed by experiences with students who often express interest in the connections between colonial medicine and international health. And so the reading list begins with quarantines and international sanitary conferences, but also networks of tropical medicine as inherently imperial projects; it moves on to questions of decolonisation alongside socialist networks of health in the Cold War era, and ends with readings primed for a discussion what it might mean to decolonise global health and its history. Yet syllabi are never static, and I will look forward to modifying my own reading lists in the future to incorporate the scholarship that will surely soon be produced by C3W project members and affiliates.

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