Much of our historical picture of medical worlds in Africa is shaped through the gaze of white, mostly European, men. From doctors, to research scientists, to colonial administrators, to funding bodies, the story of medicine in Africa is largely white and male. This workshop interrogates the forms in which medical archives are made and the voices in these archives. It looks at the ‘hidden figures’ of medical archives – whose voices do we not hear? Often it is the voices of African or other non-white people that are occluded. The voices of women, African and European, are equally difficult to find. Often responsible for maintaining the social networks upon which their husbands relied for promotions, collaborations, and recognition in the field, the wives of medical practitioners in Africa were a core component of how medical knowledge was produced. Equally, many European women, particularly in the latter years of colonialism, journeyed to African countries on their own, to be nurses, midwives, health practitioners, and even researchers. While some traces of their stories can be found, the stories of women of colour are even harder to find.
Informal archives, or archives of informal documentation, are key to elevating these voices. It is mostly in letters, diaries, journals, book manuscripts, and personal reflections that the voices of women can mostly clearly be encountered. In this, the workshop reflects on the making of medical archives: whose documents are archived? What kinds of documents are considered for deposit? In reflecting on the making of historical medical archives, it also asks how contemporary medical archives are being made: who is depositing medical material in archives? Where are they depositing it? What kinds of material are they depositing? And what does this mean for future research into medicine, whether historical or scientific?