Science, medicine, and environment; 19th and 20th century empires; decolonization, transnationalism, and world history.
Office: Harris Hall #312
Helen Tilley (Ph.D., Oxford, 2002) examines medical, environmental, and human sciences in colonial and post-colonial Africa, emphasizing intersections with environmental history, development studies, and world history. Her book, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago, 2011) explores the dynamic interplay between scientific research and imperialism in British Africa between 1870 and 1950. She has also written articles and book chapters on the history of ecology, eugenics, agriculture, and epidemiology in tropical Africa, and is co-editor with Robert Gordon of Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism and the Politics of Knowledge (Manchester, 2007) and with Michael Gordin and Gyan Prakash of Utopia-Dystopia: Historical Conditions of Possibility (Princeton, 2010). Her current project focuses on the history of African decolonization, global governance, and the ethnoscientific projects that accompanied post-colonial state building in the Cold War era. She is investigating, in particular, the different scientific studies and legal interventions in the twentieth century that originally helped to construct “traditional medicine” as a viable category of research and policy-making. This project ought to shed light on the challenges independent African states have faced juggling not just the co-existence of strikingly different medical cultures within their sovereign spheres, but also the demands of international institutions, which have increasingly set the terms of debate regarding health, medicine, and the status of knowledge. She has received grants for her research from the Wellcome Trust and the National Science Foundation. At Northwestern, she is affiliated with the programs in African Studies, Science in Human Culture, Global Health, and Environmental Policy and Culture.
Her courses focus on the history of racial science, medical pluralism in Africa, global health, and environmental concerns around the world.