Myriam Mertens

Blandijnberg 2, lokaal 5.11, B-9000 Gent

Tel.: +/32/9/264 40 04

Fax: +/32/9/264 41 89




  •  Licentiaat in de Geschiedenis (Universiteit Gent)
  •  Master in de Internationale Betrekkingen en de Diplomatie (Universiteit Antwerpen)
  •  Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies: Medicine, Health and Society (Vanderbilt University)
  •  Aspirant FWO (Research Fellow of the Fund for Scientific Research - Flanders)


Research interests

  •   History of (tropical) Medicine and Public Health in the 19th and 20th Century
  •   Pharmaceutical History
  •   Science and Colonialism


Research projects

PhD Research: Chemical Compounds in the Congo: Pharmaceuticals and the 'Crossed History' of Public Health in Belgian Africa

Pharmaceuticals, and especially their movements between different social and/or geographic settings, have become increasingly popular objects of study in medical anthropology and history. Overall, the colonial dimensions of such pharmaceutical mobilities have not received ample attention, explaining the often ahistorical accounts of pharmaceutical globalization, Eurocentric histories of drug development, or studies of colonial medicine in which the use of pharmaceuticals is not sufficiently problematized and contextualized. This research project builds on the emerging scholarship on pharmaceuticals and modern colonialism by examining the drug trajectories and pharmaceutical circulations implicated in Congo’s trypanocidal therapeutics between 1900 and 1945 and by looking at how these shaped and were shaped by the local circumstances of the Leopoldian and later Belgian colonial project. It considers the chemotherapeutic knowledge and substances constitutive of the pharmaceutical fight against sleeping sickness in Congo as entities moving across territorial borders as well as between different actors such as medical researchers, drug manufacturers, pharmacists, doctors, medical auxiliaries and patients, although not in any linear and diffusionist way, nor as part of simple top-down processes. As such, the project aspires to shed light on the complex networks of health care pertaining to colonial Congo.



Biblio UGent: click here


Conference papers and presentations

  • "Tropische geneeskunde in Belgisch Congo: de rol van transnationale connecties", paper presented in the plenary session of the 'Dag van de Nieuwste Geschiedenis', Brussels, March 15, 2008.
  • "Transnational History and Medicine", paper presented at the workshop 'The "Dictionary of Transnational History". A Discussion of the Key Areas within the Subject', Ghent, March 4, 2009.
  • "Chemical Compounds in the Congo: A Belgian Colony's role in Chemotherapeutic Knowledge Production During the 1920s", paper presented at the 3d European Conference on African Studies (panel: 'Medicine, Science and the Location of Africa'), Leipzig, June 4-7, 2009.
  • "Bringing Belgian Tropical Medicine into Perspective: The Case of Trypanosomiasis Research", paper presented at the Conference of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health - 'Global Developments and Local Specificities in the History of Medicine and Health' (session: 'The Colonial and its Relations to the Post-Colonial'), Heidelberg, September 3-6, 2009.
  • "Trypanocidal 'Drug Trajectories': The Case of Belgian Colonialism", invited talk for the Symposium: 'Anthropology of the Drug' at the Third International Conference on The Pharmaceutical Life Cycle, Milan, September 21-24, 2009.
  •  with G. Lachenal, "Belgian Tropical Medicine from a Cross-Border Perspective", paper presented at the workshop 'Beyond Belgium. Social and Cultural Entanglements 1900-1925', Ghent, April 12, 2010.  "Rationele therapeutiek in een koloniale context: het medisch laboratorium van Leopoldstad en de ontwikkeling van een Belgische tropische geneeskunde", invited talk at the Spring Meeting of the Belgian-Dutch Society for the History of Science and Universities, Brussels, March 27, 2010.
  • "La thérapeutique coloniale au Congo: les dimensions pharmaceutiques du colonialisme belge", invited talk at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, May 19, 2010.
  • "Chemical Compounds in the Congo: An Entangled History of Public Health in Belgian Africa", paper presented at the medical history postgraduate workshop 'In Sickness and in Health', Exeter, September 9-10, 2010.
  • "Histoire Croisée and the History of Medical Drugs and Colonial Medicine: The Example of the Pharmaceuticalisation of Sleeping Sickness in the Belgian Congo", paper presented at the Master Class ‘Histoire Croisée’, Brussels (VUB), November 18, 2010.