Global Visions and Local Action: The History and Politics of International Health

Tutor: Alex Medcalf (tutor for 2018-19) / Sanjoy Bhattacharya

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00056M

Credits: 20

This module studies the history and politics of international and ‘global’ health. The constituent seminars historicize the many factors influencing the development, running and evaluation of these initiatives in different national settings in Asia, Africa, Latin America and, not least, Europe. Sessions will examine attitudes and administrative realities within various international organisations based within Europe and the Americas, their offices within the different national capitals and, perhaps most importantly, within diverse field contexts, where policies were often recast in response to variety of social, economic and political challenges.

Rather than reiterating the widely held assumption that global health programmes were implemented top-down, after being advocated by organisations linked to the industrialised ‘north’ on the ‘global south’, this set of seminars will underline the usefulness of studying the history of the many complexities of project implementation in a diversity of locales. In this way, this module will describe the complex links between international health and development organisations, national governments and local administrative structures, and privately and publicly-run service providers. The seminars will also examine the role of the target populations in determining the final shape of health campaigns. This module will involve discussions about cutting edge methodologies, not least the use and interpretation of a range of primary materials, including unpublished documents, documentary films and oral interviews. This discussion of historiographical and methodological issues will allow an examination of links between academia, bodies claiming to provide independent policy assessment, and those involved indesigning public health advocacy projects. This module will provide in-depth training in how a very specific form of historical research and analysis can feed productively into health policy at all levels of governance.

Seminars may include the following themes:

    • The rise of tropical medicine in imperial and non-imperial contexts
    • The rise of the Rockefeller Foundation and the League of Nations
    • The birth of the United Nations and the formation of the World Health Organization
    • The worldwide malaria eradication programme
    • The global smallpox eradication programme
    • The global primary healthcare mission and the production of universal health coverage
    • The rise of new epidemic disease emergencies, such as AIDS
    • Globalization and the rise of ‘global’ health 


Preliminary Reading


    • Medcalf, Alexander and Sanjoy Bhattacharya, ed. Tropical Diseases: Lessons From History. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2014. Available for free download here
    • Medcalf, Alexander, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Hooman Momen, Monica Saavedra, Margaret Jones, ed. Health For All: The journey to Universal Health Coverage. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 2015. Available for free download here
    • Weindling, Paul, editor. International Health Organizations and Movements, 1918-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995
    • Cunningham, Andrew and Bridie Andrews, ed. Western medicine as contested knowledge. New York: Manchester University Press, 1997


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.