In recent years debate over how global health can be ‘decolonised’ has gained increasing traction. Public health practitioners operate in a world that is characterised by gross inequities in health outcomes and access to services. Resources for programmes are heavily skewed, and Western nations too often set the agenda for interventions on behalf of others. Decolonial theorists argue that these inequalities are rooted in past histories of economic and cultural imperialism dating from the period of European colonialism and lingering long into the era of independence. How can this be changed? Such concerns have sharpened since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, which, against the backdrop of COVID 19, underscored how social and health inequalities are still determined by race and ethnicity. Universities too have been at the centre of these debates since the student-led ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movements in Cape Town and Oxford. These dramatized the historic inequities in higher education, with respect to the curriculum, the composition of staff and students, and the global imbalance in research capacity and funding.
The talk will first discuss the political context of this moment. It then describes two projects at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine through which historians have sought to respond. The first is a research report examining the School’s own colonial entanglements, from its origin at the zenith of British imperialism till the era of formal decolonization. The second is a teaching module designed for our public health students introducing non-historians to colonialism and coloniality. It will then explore some of the potential gains, challenges and implications of this work.
Martin Gorsky is Professor of History at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His research area is the modern history of health systems and policy and currently centres on a Wellcome Trust-funded project examining the history of planning and systems analysis in international health between the 1920s and 2010. He also leads projects on the colonial history of the LSHTM and on the history of charitable hospital funding under the British NHS. Recent books include V.Berridge, M.Gorsky & A.Mold, Public Health in History, 2011 and M.Gorsky, J. Pons Pons & M. Vilar-Rodríguez eds. The Political Economy of the Hospital in History: the construction, funding and management of public and private hospital systems, 2020.