UCL Health of the Public


Spotlight On Professor Megan Vaughan

This month we speak to Professor Megan Vaughan to find out more about her research on the social and historical aspects of health on the African continent.

Professor Megan Vaughan

Professor of African History and Health

Institute of Advanced Studies
Faculty of Arts & Humanities

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Professor of African History and Health in the Institute of Advanced Studies where I am also Deputy Director. I am also co-Chair of the UCL Grand Challenge for Global Health. I research and teach on the social and historical aspects of health on the African continent and on histories of colonialism.

How are you improving the health of the public?

I wish I could say that I was directly improving the health of the public but that would be hard to substantiate. However, I do think that it’s vitally important for those working in the health field to have an understanding of the social determinants of health and of histories of health and healing. In my own work, I’ve been particularly focused on the effects of colonial systems and or racialisation.

What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your work? 

I’ve been enormously privileged to have had a career that has taken me for long periods to work with colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve learned so much in the process about different ways of approaching both history and health, and it has been personally fulfilling. I’ve had wonderful students from all over the world who have constantly challenged me to think harder and more imaginatively.

How have cross-disciplinary collaborations shaped your research?

My work has always been cross-disciplinary. I was trained as a historian of Africa, using oral historical methods. I think of myself as a historian and ethnographer. I have always also worked in dialogue with scholars from a range of disciplines, including environmental and medical sciences, as well as from cultural studies. I’m a passionate believer in breaking down disciplinary silos.

What advice would you offer to others interested in developing cross-disciplinary research?

It can be hard work – especially when some disciplines hold more power than others. Stick to it! Focus on issues that really matter to all your collaborators and try and find new ways of communicating across disciplinary languages.

What's next on the research horizon for you?

I’m writing a book on ‘Colonial Metabolisms’ and can’t think much beyond that at the moment.

If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?

I can think of a number of possible answers to this question – but none of them make any sense if we don’t urgently take care of the planet on which we all live.