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Deborah Joy Neill


The John Bullen Prize


Deborah Joy Neill. “Transnationalism in the Colonies: Cooperation, Rivalry, and Race in German and French Tropical Medicine, 1880-1930″. (Department of History/département d’histoire, University of Toronto/Université de Toronto, 2005).

Deborah Neill’s thesis is an outstanding innovative work of exceptional scope. Adopting a comparative approach to historical enquiry, she explores the connections between three major themes: medicine, imperialism and racism in the African empires of France and Germany during the period 1880 to 1930.
Challenging the conventional view of the age of imperialism before First World War as an age of national competition for colonies, she forcefully shows that in the field of tropical medicine, unity and cooperation characterized the relations between the scientists and doctors of the two European colonial powers. Her comparative analysis of health services in Cameroon and in Afrique équatoriale française, and especially her case study of the German and French campaigns against sleeping sickness, make clear that while working together to protect fellow Europeans from tropical diseases, European scientists and doctors shared a profound disregard for Africans as human beings.

Neil demonstrates an impressive ability to reconcile and seam together the various strands of archival and secondary material coming from distant areas of historical research: history of science and medicine, theories of race and ethnicity, history of colonialism. And one must add, all this in three linguistic dimensions, drawing upon French, German and Anglo-American historical material. A first-rate humanist achievement.