“Mapping the Infected Landscape: Colonial Knowledge, African Labor, and Sleeping Sickness Prevention in the Early Twentieth Century,” in Chris Otter, Nicholas Breyfogle, John L. Brooke, et al, Forum: “From ‘Natural’ to ‘Artificial’ Disease Environments: Technology, Ecology and Human Health 1850-2010,” Environmental History 20 (2015): 722-35.
Trypanosomal infections in humans and livestock—known as sleeping sickness and nagana, respectively—have long allowed historians to consider the relationship between environmental change, human action, and the ebb and flow of epidemic disease. In the early twentieth century, populations in eastern and central Africa affected by sleeping sickness also dealt with colonial efforts to control and prevent it. Such efforts depended on establishing the range and habitat of the tsetse flies that transmit trypanosome parasites, a process dependent on intensive labor by European researchers and African auxiliaries working in the field. This essay explores the history of colonial forays into environment and health, particularly African auxiliaries’ role in specimen collection and disease mapping, and it discusses the accumulation of information about landscapes, waterways, and fly ecologies around Lake Victoria.