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GSSC Seminar Series
19 March 2024


Provincializing foot-and-mouth disease: the construction of the African buffalo as disease reservoir in Botswana, 1961-1976

Wisse van Engelen (University of Cologne)



How have we come to know foot-and-mouth disease? While veterinary histories have provided an answer to this question, they have only done so in the context of Britain, and to some extent mainland Europe and Argentina. This partiality risks creating the impression that European ideas of the disease are universal. In this presentation, therefore, I will provincialize the notion of foot-and-mouth disease by describing how veterinarians came to know the disease in Botswana, based on archival research conducted in the Botswana National Archives. Specifically, I focus on the 1960s and 70s as the period when the African buffalo was identified as the reservoir host for the disease. This account challenges diffusionist accounts of colonial science and veterinary medicine. It rather shows how the disease reservoir understanding emerged in the encounter between British understandings of foot-and-mouth disease, the political economy of Bechuanaland and of Botswana, and local environments and their varied wildlife. In so doing, I bring veterinary history (of foot-and-mouth disease) and animal history in much-needed conversation with (post)colonial histories of science. In the conclusion, I discuss what the attempt to provincialize foot-and-mouth disease means for global disease control policies.


Wisse van Engelen is a PhD researcher in the ERC-funded project ‘Rewilding the Anthropocene’, studying the intersection of disease control and wildlife conservation with a focus on foot-and-mouth disease in Botswana. His research interests lie mainly in conservation social sciences and the environmental humanities, with a theoretical orientation that focusses on exploring and rethinking politics in the Anthropocene. Wisse has a multidisciplinary background in conservation sciences at Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and wrote his MSc thesis on the politics of conservation-tourism partnerships in a nature park in South Africa, working with actor-network theory and ethnographic methods.