An Update on “Mapping Hot Spots: ‘One Health’ and the History of Infectious Disease Research in Uganda”

With the support of the Holtz Center Thematic Cluster Grant, in 2016-17 we organized a year-long speaker series on “One Health and History,” featuring scholars from across the humanities and social and natural sciences, and field sites around the globe. We also created and co-taught a graduate seminar in fall 2016 on “Mapping Hot Spots: ‘One Health’ and Infectious Disease Research in Africa.”  The seminar had two interrelated aims. First, it brought together a multidisciplinary cohort of graduate students to discuss the ways that “hotspots” are (re)produced scientifically and socially, with particular attention to the relations between emerging infectious disease and biological conservation in sub-Saharan Africa.  Second, during the course and into spring 2017, the seminar students developed an IRB-approved research project for three weeks of ethnographic and archival research in western Uganda, which they carried out under our supervision during May and June, 2017.  This research focused on how Ugandan field assistants for biological and biomedical projects in and around Kibale National Park understand the projects in which they are engaged, and how their understanding shapes the spaces in which those projects are able to take place. Together, the team members performed extensive research in local archives at Mountains of the Moon University, and conducted dozens of interviews and hours of participant observation with field assistants in Kibale, as well as their family and neighbors. This short video documents the research undertaken in western Uganda.

Building on the success of our program thus far, we will use the remainder of the Thematic Cluster Grant to extend this work to Botswana, where UW-Madison is engaged in a major effort to build research partnerships.  Several members of our team will travel to Botswana in January 2019 to meet with government officials and faculty at the University of Botswana.  While there, we will discuss the proposed creation of an environmental and scientific research station in the Okavango Delta.  The initiatives currently under consideration for this region offer a potentially compelling comparative case study for our work in Uganda.  This visit to Botswana will also lay the groundwork for an exciting new program geared toward UW-Madison undergraduate students.  In summer 2019, Neil Kodesh will lead a group of fifteen undergraduate students on a UW Global Gateway Program in Botswana.  This short-term (1 month) program will focus on the themes at the heart of our thematic cluster.  Students will take two courses while in Botswana.  The first course, which Kodesh will teach, introduces students to the history and culture of southern Africa from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, paying particular attention to the historical lineages of “global health” interventions and scientific experimentation in the region.  The second course, which will be taught by a faculty person at the University of Botswana, will offer an introduction to public and environmental health practice in Botswana. The course will cover local issues and allow students to appreciate the different health challenges facing Botswana, including combating infectious diseases, securing a safe drinking water supply, food safety, and basic environmental sanitation. The Global Gateway program is open to first- and second-year undergraduate students.  Given the theme of the program in Botswana, we expect that many of the participating students will further pursue their interests in science and technology studies – and participate in Holtz Center activities – when they return to campus.

— Contributed by Josh Garoon, Tony Goldberg, and Neil Kodesh