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Healing Knowledge in Atlantic Africa
Medical Encounters, 1500–1850


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Part of Global Health Histories

  • Date Published: December 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108811781

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About the Authors
  • In this ambitious analysis of medical encounters in Central and West Africa during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, Kalle Kananoja focuses on African and European perceptions of health, disease and healing. Arguing that the period was characterised by continuous knowledge exchange, he shows that indigenous natural medicine was used by locals and non-Africans alike. The mobility and circulation of healing techniques and materials was an important feature of the early modern Black Atlantic world. African healing specialists not only crossed the Atlantic to the Americas, but also moved within and between African regions to offer their services. At times, patients, Europeans included, travelled relatively long distances in Africa to receive treatment. Highlighting cross-cultural medical exchanges, Kananoja shows that local African knowledge was central to shaping responses to illness, providing a fresh, global perspective on African medicine and vernacular science in the early modern world.

    • Places Atlantic Africa in a global historical context
    • Argues that Africa and Africans were engaged in multidirectional exchanges of healing knowledge
    • Shows how local knowledge was central in shaping responses to illness
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    • Winner, 2022 Choice Outstanding Academic Titles

    Reviews & endorsements

    'An innovative and essential study on public health in the Black Atlantic. Kananoja traces the mobility of West Central African healers across the Atlantic, as specialists on medical knowledge and spiritual power. This is a welcome contribution to the scholarship on European appropriation of African knowledge, West Central Africa, and early modern medicine and natural history.' Mariana P. Candido, Emory University

    'Building on, and responding to, the increasingly extensive scholarship on African diasporas of the Americas, Kalle Kananoja returns readers to the other side of the Atlantic, where he explores the creative interplay between the material and spiritual worlds of the Portuguese and Atlantic Africans. He convincingly shows the ways in which plural medicine – underwritten everywhere by indigenous knowledge – sustained cross-cultural interactions throughout the long eighteenth century, and proved formative for later colonial and metropolitan pharmacopoeias.' Hugh Cagle, University of Utah

    'Kalle Kanonoja has created a groundbreaking work in the study of medicine in Africa and in the larger Atlantic world. In this clearly written and marvelously researched contribution, Kanonoja shows that African medical systems were quite similar to those of Europe in the pre-scientific era; with some herbal knowledge and some religious hope. This work will be critical to redefining the way Africa is presented in the history of science and medicine.' John Thornton, Boston University

    '… this book marks a significant step forward in our understanding of how the production of knowledge-in the medical field as well as in others, such as geography-depended upon interaction between European men and African men and women, as well as upon the mobility of these people.' Adam Jones, Metascience

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108811781
    • length: 272 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.401kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Healing (and harming) specialists: plural medicine in Angola and Kongo
    2. Cross-Cultural experiments: the materiality of medicine in West-Central Africa
    3. 'Much better suited than we are, as regards their health care': African botanical expertise and medical knowledge on the Gold Coast
    4. Remedies on the spot: science, agricultural development and botanical knowledge in Sierra Leone ca. 1800
    5. Healers, hospitals and medicines: European medical practice in Angola
    6. Treating their symptoms: limits of humoural medicine
    7. Migrations: medical geography in the Southern Atlantic
    8. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Kalle Kananoja, University of Oulu, Finland
    Kalle Kananoja is a senior researcher at the University of Oulu. He is an expert in early modern Atlantic history and has published articles on Angolan and Afro-Brazilian religious and medical culture. Kananoja is the co-editor of Healers and Empires: Healing as Hybrid and Contested Knowledge in Global History, 1700s–1900s (2019).


    • Winner, 2022 Choice Outstanding Academic Titles

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