Medicine, Capitalism and the Health of Egypt in the Twentieth Century

Historiography of the Middle East

Medicine, Capitalism and the Health of Egypt in the Twentieth Century

A lecture by Jennifer L. Derr (UC Santa Cruz)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023
3:00 PM (Pacific Time)
10383 Bunche Hall

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This talk explores the history of medicine in Egypt from the vantage point of one of its most vital organs, the liver. During the twentieth century, the liver became an archive of Egypt’s history, a primary site of scientific investigation, and a physical manifestation of the political economic changes that shaped the country. In the second half of the century, it became clear that Egyptians were suffering from an epidemic of liver disease. This talk will explore the entanglements of local endeavors to understand and treat diseases of the liver with global public health interventions, the interests of multinational pharmaceutical and chemical companies, and the anti-colonial objectives of the Egyptian state, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. It will also probe the deep and under explored relationships between the histories of biomedical projects to treat disease in human bodies and those of broader capitalist structures. 

Jennifer L. Derr is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she is also the Founding Director of the Center for the Middle East and North Africa. Her second manuscript explores the history of liver disease in Egypt, tracing the production of the organ as a site of knowledge, disease, and treatment and the significance of this history within that of biomedicine and public health in the Global South during the second half of the twentieth century. Her research for this project is supported by a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation focused on the “History of Science at the Interface of Biomedical and Environmental Concerns.” Derr is also currently the primary principal investigator of a Mellon Sawyer Seminar on “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine.”

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies