In an effort to keep track of my own reading and research I’ve created a map using Google Maps Engine with categories for country-specific work, both fiction and non-fiction, from academic literature to long-form journalism. The map is pretty sparse at the moment, but I’ll keep updating it. Please send along your own reading recommendations by country (or region). Click here to view the map in detail.
American medicine up until the twentieth century was an unmitigated disaster. Or so argues (quite convincingly) John Barry in his fascinating book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. The first two sections of the book cover a brief history of American medicine and medical research, and I’ve only just gotten to the outbreak of the pandemic that killed between 20 and 50 million people, according to the best estimates. For comparison’s sake, WWI claimed 16 million lives, and AIDS an estimated 33 million.
Barry highlights a strong link between war and disease, namely, the emergence of epidemics or even pandemics. I’ll return to a discussion of this thesis when I’ve finished the book, but for now, what has been most striking is the utter catastrophe that was American medicine up until relatively recently. While scientists and physicians in Europe, including Robert Koch, Pierre Louis, Louis Pasteur, and John Snow were pioneers in epidemiology, germ theory, and more, the study of medicine in America was stagnant, suggesting the importance of healthy academic and scientific competition on the European continent.
Evidence of the United States’ relative backwardness is abundant. Charles Eliot, who became president of Harvard in 1869, wrote in his first report as president that, “The ignorance and general incompetency of the average graduate of the American medical Schools, at a time when he receives his degree which turns him loose upon the community, is something horrible to contemplate.” When Eliot proposed reforms within Harvard, including examinations (of all things), Professor of Surgery Henry Bigelow, had this to say:
“[Eliot] actually proposes to have written examinations for the degree of doctor of medicine. I had to tell him that he knew nothing of the quality of Harvard medical students. More than half of them can hardly write. Of course they can’t pass written examinations…No medical school has thought it proper to risk large existing classes and large receipts by introducing more rigorous standards.”
At the end of the 19th century, Barry reports that American universities had “nearly two hundred endowed chairs of theology and fewer than five in medicine…” showing where both the money and the power lay. It was ultimately the initiative of a few individuals, combined with big money from illustrious families such as the Hopkins and Rockefellers, that turned the ship around.
The Great Influenza is an excellent read, and fodder for thought not only for those interested in medicine, epidemiology, and virology (guilty as charged), but also for those interested in the academy as an institution – how it evolves or stagnates, and the factors that generate innovation and massive leaps forward in our understanding of the world.
There are a number of scholarship and fellowship opportunities for African students and researchers with deadlines in early 2014. I’m compiling a list below (descriptions from respective websites); please feel free to send along others.
EASST 2014 Visiting Scholar Fellowship
What: “The EASST Visiting Scholar Fellowship seeks to equip East African social scientists with the skills needed to carry out rigorous evaluations of economic development programs. Researchers will be based at the University of California Berkeley during either the Fall or Spring semester, and will receive a living stipend, round-trip economy class air travel to Berkeley, CA, and the opportunity to receive a $8,000 research grant to promote impact evaluation at their home institution in East Africa. While at Berkeley, fellows will be able to audit courses, present research, attend seminars, develop curricula and design collaborative research projects.”
Deadline: March 16, 2014
Application portal here.
Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
What: “The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the new flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). President Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. The Washington Fellowship, which begins in 2014, will bring 500 young leaders to the United States each year for academic coursework and leadership training and will create unique opportunities in Africa for Fellows to put new skills to practical use in leading organizations, communities, and countries.”
Deadline: January 27, 2014
Application website here.
Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program
What: “The Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program (HSAFP) is intended for South Africans who in the past were educationally disadvantaged by law and resource allocation under apartheid. In 1979 Harvard University began awarding these fellowships for a year of study in one or more of its faculties or schools. Harvard funds these fellowships from its own resources. Over the years more than one hundred and forty fellowships have been awarded to South Africans.”
Deadline: March/April 2014 (exact date TBD)
Application website here (still undergoing updates for 2014).
APSA Africa Workshop 2014
What: “The American Political Science Association (APSA) and the Higher Institute of Public Administration (ISAP) are pleased to announce a call for applications from individuals who would like to participate in a workshop on ‘Distributive goods and distributive politics’ in Maputo, Mozambique. The two-week workshop will be held from June 30th to July 11th 2014 at the Higher Institute of Public Administration in Maputo, Mozambique. The organizers, with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will cover all the costs of participation (including travel, lodging, meals, and materials) for up to 26 qualified applicants. This year’s workshop will be conducted in English.
The Africa Workshops program at the American Political Science Association (APSA) is an ongoing effort to expand the capacity of political science research and teaching in east and west Sub-Saharan Africa. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, APSA is undertaking a multi-year program to organize a series of political science workshops throughout Africa and promote the profession of political science across the region. Each year, the program brings brings together approximately 30 scholars from across Africa and the United States for a 2-3 week seminar or short-course that focuses on a substantive theme of interest to political scientists. Driven by a unique syllabus featuring classic and cutting-edge research, each workshop program includes lectures, discussions, topical presentations and debates, guest speakers, peer review sessions, professional development seminars, and local field trips. Participants are required to arrive with and present their own current research, which they will then continue to refine for publication. Through these workshops, participants become an active part of the growing international political science community with increased access to supportive scholarly networks.”
Deadline: March 14, 2014
Online application form here.
MSc in African Studies, University of Oxford
What: “The MSc in African Studies is a three-term, nine-month course designed both as a stand-alone interdisciplinary introduction to current debates about Africa, and as a preparation for doctoral research on Africa. This advanced degree programme provides an excellent foundation for those who wish to expand their knowledge of African Studies, prior to working for NGOs, the civil service, international organizations, and the media, or in other professional capacities.”
“The African Studies Centre is offering full scholarships for the MSc in African Studies for the 2014-2015 academic year.”
African Women Public Service Fellows
What: “Wagner announces a call for applications for the African Women Public Service Fellowship, a fellowship program made possible by a donation from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which expands the opportunity for African women to prepare for public service in their home countries. As fellows at NYU Wagner, African women study in one of two graduate programs: the two-year Master of Public Administration or the one-year Executive MPA: Concentration on International Public Service Organizations. The awards for either program will support tuition, housing, travel to and from the United States and a small stipend to cover books and miscellaneous expenses. Applicants commit to return to their respective home countries at the conclusion of the program with the goal of assuming a leadership position on the continent where they can meaningfully contribute to the challenges currently confronting Africa.”
Carnegie African Diaspora Fellows Program
What: “The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellows Program (ADF) is a scholar exchange program, offered by IIE in partnership with Quinnipiac University (QU) and funded by a two-year grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY). ADF will support 100 short-term faculty exchange fellowships for African-born academics. The program exemplifies CCNY’s enduring commitment to higher education in Africa. IIE will manage and administer the program, including applications, project requests and fellowships. QU will provide strategic direction through Dr. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and an Advisory Council he will chair.”
Learn how to apply.
Quantitative Methods Training at U-M African Social Research Initiative
What: “The African Social Research Initiative (ASRI) at the University of Michigan seeks applications for up to four visiting scholars to attend courses in social science research methods and analysis at the University of Michigan during the months of June-August 2014. The program is open to academic researchers who are enrolled in or have completed PhD programs in the social sciences and who are from, or reside in, one or more of the following countries: Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Uganda.
During their time in Ann Arbor, visiting scholars will attend courses offered by two internationally renowned summer training programs at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (ISR). Applicants who are invited to attend the summer programs may select several options from amongst the four- or eight-week sessions offered.”
Deadline: February 14, 2014
Application details here.
A few links for your Sunday:
- Unreliable Research: Trouble at the Lab (Economist)
- Why are there still so few women in science? (NYT)
- The African School of Economics is hiring.
- The film God Loves Uganda, about the American evangelical movement in Uganda, recently opened in the US and Canada.
- American and U.S. Embassy in Uganda warn of imminent terrorist attacks. Stay safe everyone.
My research of late has explored the responses of Muslim elites and communities to the arrival of missionaries and colonial administrators across Uganda. Sources primarily comprise of missionary accounts, official documents of the colonial administration, manuscripts and books by Ugandan intellectuals and scholars, and work by non-Ugandan anthropologists, most of whom were most active between the 1960s and 1980s.
The best and most detailed accounts tend to be authored by Ugandans, often those who played active roles in shaping the course of the country’s history. Unfortunately, these works are also the most difficult to find. Makerere University Libraries are perhaps the best resource, but you must have university affiliation to use the libraries and you cannot check out or, understandably, copy the books. Thus, many of Uganda’s most precious historical works are quietly locked away from the public.
I’ve identified a class of what I will call “endangered books”. These are books (or theses, etc.) that are now out of print or have never been published, and are virtually impossible to access or acquire without affiliation to a university with a very good library. Many of the authors have passed on, and are not able to lobby for the protection of their hard work. I don’t imagine there is a huge market for many of these books, yet unless steps are taken to republish them, a fire or two is capable of wiping out their existence.
I’m keeping a running list of these works below as I come across them. Hopefully I can convince a publisher to take interest in making sure these treasures do not fall victim to the decay currently facing many archives across Africa (see Jinja archives above). Please feel free to submit your own.
Y.K. Lubogo. 1960. The History of Busoga. Jinja, Uganda: East Africa Literature Bureau.
Dan Mudoola. 1974. Chiefs and Political Action, The Case of Busoga: 1900-1968. PhD thesis, Makerere University
Wahab Oladejo Adigun Nasiru. 1977. Islamic Learning Among the Yoruba, 1896-1963. PhD Thesis in the department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan
Fidget, type, delete, stand up, sit down, walk aimlessly, sing, talk to myself, stare out the window. Repeat. Sometimes words flow. Other times they stick stubbornly amidst cobwebbed clutter. Writing, though exhausting, is important for me not just because it is the primary means through which I share my work with others, but also because it is a process through which I discover, generate, clarify, and organize ideas. But oh, is it hard. Lynn Hunt has a fabulous essay on this exact subject, an excerpt of which is below. It’s always good to know we are not alone in our self-made battles.
Everyone who has written at any substantial length, whether prose or poetry, knows that the process of writing itself leads to previously unthought thoughts. Or to be more precise, writing crystallizes previously half-formulated or unformulated thoughts, gives them form, and extends chains of thoughts in new directions. Neuroscience has shown that 95 percent of brain activity is unconscious. My guess about what happens is that by physically writing—whether by hand, by computer, or by voice activation (though I have no experience of the latter)—you set a process literally into motion, a kind of shifting series of triangulations between fingers, blank pages or screens, letters and words, eyes, synapses or other “neural instantiations,” not to mention guts and bladders. By writing, in other words, you are literally firing up your brain and therefore stirring up your conscious thoughts and something new emerges. You are not, or at least not always, transcribing something already present in your conscious thoughts. Is it any wonder that your neck gets stiff?
Now, back to writing.
Experiments are all the rage in the social sciences these days, or maybe I should say, in American political science and economics. Researchers are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to implement a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the goal being the identification of a causal effect of some treatment on some outcome — say, information about politicians’ behavior (like whether they show up to work) on voters’ perceptions, beliefs, and behavior (like whether they will support a politician in the future). The Poverty Action Lab has a nice summary of the goal and process of randomization here.
Sometimes in life you face a major decision, and you just don’t know what to do. You’ve considered the issue from every angle. But no matter how you look at it, no decision seems to be the right decision. In the end, whatever you choose will essentially be a flip of a coin. Help us by letting Freakonomics Experiments flip that coin for you.
You get to choose your decision (Should I join a gym? Should I get a roommate?) and then follow whatever decision the virtual coin makes (overview here).
I’m very interested to see where this goes, although I also wonder about selection effects. Randomization will still work (thus internal validity), but external validity (generalizability) may be limited. For example, after looking through the questions (of which very few applied to me) I decided I couldn’t commit to whatever decision was made by the coin. I find sometimes a coin flip helps clarify my position on something, but often because I realize the outcome of the coin leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, leading me to choose the opposite. I wonder what types of people are actually able to commit to random assignment of an important choice in their lives (separation from a spouse? Yikes! Hope they don’t realize it was part of an experiment!).
If you are not a wishy washy type like me, try it out. Gezako!
Happy belated 2013! I hope your year is off to a productive start. I rang in the new year with friends and family in Kampala, where I’ll be based for the next nine months or so, during which time I hope to become active again in this space. I’m currently conducting dissertation research on the history and politics of Muslim education of sub-Saharan Africa, among other collaborations with colleagues and friends here in Uganda. More on that to come.
In the meantime, and in my downtime, I have determined to make 2013 a year of reading. I think this is my one and only new year’s resolution; the gym has failed me time and again. For a long time I felt guilty spending time reading things that did not directly apply to my coursework or research, a terrible way to go through life (and grad school). You can find inspiration anywhere, and the joy of reading is something that is easy to forget when you have thousands of pages of required reading.
So, I’m posting below all the books I read this year for my own records and as encouragement (I’m very much a list person. Makes me more productive). I’m more than happy to hear your suggestions on books you love, whatever the topic. The Economist has a great list of best of 2012 books here.
Last update: December 30, 2013
* Don’t bother
** If you have some free time, I guess
*** Fun, interesting, and/or worthwhile
**** Outstanding or an important read
***** Read this book!!
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova ***
The Round House, Louise Erdich ***
Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel, Isabel Allende ***
Sweet Tooth: A Novel, Ian Mcewan **
The Cutting Season: A Novel, Attica Locke ***
The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng ***
Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi ****
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie *****
And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini *****
The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, yes I bought it right after I found out) ***
Beautiful Ruins: A Novel, Jess Walter ***
The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel, Adam Johnson ***
We Need New Names: A Novel, NoViolent Bulawayo ****
The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri ****
Hard Times, Charles Dickens ***
There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, Chinua Achebe ****
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen *****
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg ****
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, Deborah Feldman ***
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World, Tina Seelig ****
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood, Helene Cooper ****
More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World’s Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy, Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel ***
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant ***
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely ****
Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser *****
Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehardt
One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir, Binyavanga Wainaina
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuscinski
This year’s annual conference of the Stanford Forum for African Studies will be held October 26-27, 2012 at the Stanford Humanities Center. All are invited to attend. Guest speakers include Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town) and Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop, best known for his book, Murambi.
The full conference program can be found on the SFAS website.