Februar 2011


German colonial medicine in Africa

Freitag 11.02.2011 19:00 | Seminarraum 1

Eintritt: Frei

Veranstalter/-in: Werkstatt der Kulturen


Deutscher Kolonialismus und Robert Koch or ''Robert Koch superstar“?
A reassessment of the second half of Robert Koch's career and his Africa expeditions 1883-1910. Archives & primary literature review'

100 years after his death, Robert Koch is still considered as the uncontested scientific 'superstar' of the 20th century in his native Germany and the world. The nobel prize of medicine he was awarded in 1905, seem to have confirmed and sealed his status as the 'father' of modern bacteriology.

Research on him has therefore been 'blinded' by the aura of untouchability that came out of his fame, making most works sound like a series of 'elegies'/praises of the man and his work. In fact, until very recently, this research area has been the 'private garden' of medical doctors & microbiologists who were either in some ways connected to the Robert Koch Institute, or who chose to write their PhD med dissertations on it.

Even though most Africa historians have contented themselves with uncritical adaptations of the outcomes of the above mentioned works to their particular studies, a few have questioned the end results of the many Koch expeditions he led in various parts of the African continent between 1883 and 1910. The lack of serious investigations looking into his activities in this period which was crucial in African history, is partly due to the fact that the archives and the majority of the studies done on him are only accessible to German speakers.

According to contemporary observers, one of the few positively bewertete legacies of, or most verbreitete myths about colonialism in Africa is the introduction of modern medicinische healing practices in the continent. This talk is part of an attempt to fill in this gap using first hand archival documents from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin as well as recent critical works of German medical historians. It is intended as a presentation and analysis of the africa related contents of the rki archive & a review of the literature.

The objective of the talk is not only to show how far rk fame was extended to his Africa expeditions, but also to deconstruct this weitverbreite myth by taking the example of the brief, but nonetheless intensive German colonial experience. I also intend to embed my reassesment of the expeditions in the framework of the environment & disease ecologies/situation in which the African continent was in at the time.

Facil Tesfaye holds an undergraduate diploma in African Studies and Political Science from Humboldt University, Berlin and an MA in Political Science from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He is currently undertaking a doctorate at the Indian Ocean World Centre in McGill’s Department of History on “Statistical Practices & Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda and Zanzibar.”