School of Social Sciences

Julie Parle

Julie Parle

Position (Honorary) Associate Professor
Discipline Historical Studies, Society & Social Change Cluster
Degrees Held (Undergraduate – PhD) B.A., BA (Hons) Natal and PhD (UKZN, 2004)
Office Address

Research interests

  • My research interests span the fields of the history of psychological health and – across cultures – the quest for therapeutic strategies; the history of gender; of colonialism; and of epidemics, both biological and social. In the context of southern Africa my research embraces the issues such as suicide, psychiatry, witchcraft, spirit possession, hysteria, hallucinations, dreams, religion, and medical pluralism. My monograph, States of Mind: Searching for Mental Health in Natal & Zululand, 1868-1918, was published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press in 2007. From 2005 I was co-researcher and project co-ordinator with Professor Catherine E Burns (WiSER) and Dr Vanessa Noble for the South African National Heritage Council project called “Health Pioneers in South Africa”. This project focuses on a critical history of McCord “Zulu” Hospital in Durban, which is of regional, national and international importance to the history of medicine and the training of nurses and health professionals in Southern Africa. The manuscript is currently under review. More recently, I have widened my research to include the history of emotions and notions of propriety, privacy, the family and psychiatric committal in KwaZulu-Natal.I have also published on the challenges of the ethics of archival research on mental illness and, more generally, for the professional historians working in the Southern African region.In August 2012, Vanessa Noble and I co-convened a workshop ‘New Directions in the Histories of Health, Healing and Medicine in African Contexts’ which brought together both regional and international historians, anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars working in this exciting area of academic research.An overview and selection of these papers was published as a special edition of the international journal Medical History in 2014.See

Selected Publications


Some reviews at:

Chapters in Books

  • ‘The Mad in their Midst: Accommodating Insanity and the Natal Government Asylum, 1880-1920’, chapter in Mark Harrison, Helen Sweet, and Margaret Jones (eds), From Western Medicine to Global Medicine: The History of Hospitals Beyond the West (Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2009).
  • ‘”This Painful Subject”: Citizens, Subjects and Suicide in Colonial Natal and Zululand’, chapter in David Wright and John Weaver (eds.) Histories of Suicide: International Perspectives on Self-Destruction in the Modern World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).
  • ‘Healers, Witchcraft and Madness’, chapter in Benedict Carton, John Laband and Jabulani Sithole (eds.) Zulu Identities: Being Zulu, Past and Present (Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press, 2008), co-authored with Karen E. Flint, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Journal Articles

  • ‘“Are we going to stand by and let these children come into the world?”: The impact of the ‘thalidomide disaster’ in South Africa, 1960-1975’, with Susanne M. Klausen, forthcoming in a Special Edition of the Journal of Southern African Studies, 2015, on the theme of ‘Science and Scandal in Southern Africa’, edited by Rebecca Hodes and Lyn Schumaker.
  • ‘Museums, Archives and Medical Material: Some Ethical Considerations’, with Rochelle Keene, Curator of the Adler Museum of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand; paper in revision after invitation for publication.
  • ‘New Directions in Histories of Medicine, Health and Healing in South Africa’, Guest Editorial, with Vanessa Noble, to the Special Edition, ‘New Directions and Challenges in Histories of Health, Healing & Medicine in South Africa’’ in Medical History, 58, 2 (April) 2014: 147-165
  • ‘”The Hospital Was Just Like a Home”: Self, Service and ‘the McCord Hospital Family’, with Vanessa Noble, Medical History, 58, 2 (April) 2014: 188-209.
  • ‘Family Commitments, Economies of Emotions, and Negotiating Mental Illness in Late Nineteenth to mid-Twentieth century Natal’, South Africa’, South African Historical Journal, 66, 1, 2014: 1-21.
  • ‘”The Past and its Possibilities”: Perspectives of Southern Africa’, South African Historical Journal, 64, 2, 2012: 159-169.
  • ‘Bewitching Zulu Women: Umhayizo, Gender and Witchcraft in Natal’, co-authored with Fiona Scorgie, University of the Witwatersrand, South African Historical Journal, 64:4, 852-875
  • ‘”The Voice of History”? Patients, Privacy and Archival Research Ethics in Histories of Insanity’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 24-5, 2006-7: 164-187.
  • ‘Teaching African History in South Africa’, in Special Edition on Teaching African History in Afrika Spectrum, 40, 3, 2005:521-534, co-authored with Thembisa Waetjen, UKZN.
  • ‘An Ambiguous Sexual Revolution?: Sexual Change and Intra-generational Conflict in Colonial Natal’, in South African Historical Journal, 50, 2004: 134-151, co-authored with Michael R. Mahoney.
  • ‘Witchcraft or Madness? The Amandiki of Zululand, 1894- 1914, Journal of Southern African, 29, 1, (March) 2003: 105-132.
  • ‘The Fools on the Hill: The Natal Government Asylum and the Institutionalisation of Insanity in Colonial Natal’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 19, 2001: 1-39.

Selected Awards and Professional Honours (including memberships to boards, editorial positions)

  • Visiting Scholar, Queen’s University and Carleton University, Canada, September – October 2014.
  • Appointed to the South African National Archives Advisory Council in 2012. Elected (Acting) President 2014.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the journal, Social History of Medicine.
  • Appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Macrorie House Museum, Pietermaritzburg, June 2014.
  • Member of the Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives Advisory Committee, Pietermaritzburg.
  • President of the Southern African Historical Society (Vice President June 2007), 2009-2011.
  • Chair of the School of Anthropology, Gender and Historical Studies Research & Ethics Committee, 2008-2011.
  • Member of the School of Social Sciences Higher Degrees and Research Committee (Pmb), 2012-2013.
  • Member of the Board of the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work, Pietermaritzburg.


  • Bobby Eldridge (PhD) dissertation: ‘A Critical Biography of Killie Campbell, 1881-1965’ (in progress).
  • Fiona Bell (PhD) Dissertation: The contribution of the Carnegie Corporation of New York to the development of library and information services in South Africa from the early Twentieth century’ (co-supervision with Professor M Goedhals: in progress).
  • Kyla O’Neill, (MA thesis): ‘No longer merely a meander: A History of the Black Sash, Pietermaritzburg Advice Office, 1976-1993’ (in progress)
  • Eva Jackson (MA by research) Dissertation: ‘Four Women, Four Chiefships: Case Studies in the Divergent Choices and Negotiations with Power of izinkosikazi in Nineteenth-century Natal’ (under examination).
  • Ashley Morris (Honours thesis): ‘Weeding out’ the nature of the Ngoba dagga raid killings of 1956 (degree completed 2011).
  • Prinisha Badassy (PhD) Dissertation: ‘A Severed Umbilicus: Infanticide in Natal, 1860-1935’ (degree complete 2011).
  • Amina Issa (PhD) Dissertation: ‘The Development of Health Facilities in Zanzibar, 1860-1960’ (Graduated April 2010).
  • Lauren Boyd (Honours thesis): ‘The Pietermaritzburg Mental Health Society in the 1960s and 1970s’ (Completed December 2009).
  • Fabio Zoia (Honours thesis): ‘Alan B Taylor, McCord Hospital and the Politics of Resistance against Apartheid, 1945-1970 (Completed December 2007)’
  • Penelope Watts (Honours thesis): ‘Missionary Institutions, Nursing and Christianity: An Examination of McCord Hospital, 1950-1973’ (Completed December 2006).
  • Melissa van Oordt (MA by research) Dissertation: ‘”Deadly Myths”: Anti-Shark Measures in Natal, 1910-1950’ (Completed June 2006).
  • Mxolisi Mchunu, (MA by research) Dissertation: ‘Fathers and Sons in KwaZulu-Natal, 1945-2000’, co-supervised by Professor R Morrell (Completed June 2006).
  • Nafisa Essop Sheik (MA by research) Dissertation ‘Labouring Under the Law: Exploring the Agency of Indian Women under Indenture in Colonial Natal, 1860-1911’, co-supervised by Professor Catherine Burns (Completed August 2005).
  • Mandisa Mbali (MA by coursework) Dissertation: ‘“The ‘New’ Struggle?”: Towards A History of Progressive Health NGO Engagement in AIDS policy-making in KwaZulu-Natal, 1982-1999’. (Completed January 2004).
  • Nafisa Essop Sheik (Honours thesis): ‘This Most Perilous Epidemical Disease’: Plague Precautions and Public Politics in Natal, 1896-1903. (Completed January 2004).
  • Kameron Hurley (MA by coursework) Dissertation: ‘The Voice of Women? The ANC and the Rhetoric of Women’s Resistance’.(Completed June 2003).

Community Engagement

  • Community Representative: Medical Research Ethics Committee for McCord Hospital, Durban, 2006-2010.
  • Presentations for various organisations including the UKZN Alumni Association; the Pietermaritzburg Heritage Network: Howick Society, etc.

Research Projects

  • Since becoming an Honorary Associate of UKZN, I have focused on further research collaborations, including on the history of pharmacology and pharmacy in South Africa, with a particular focus on the history of the teratogen, thalidomide, in the African continent.I have also co-authored two papers with Rochelle Keene of the Adler Museum of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, on ethics and medical museums. I also continue to supervise senior graduate students in History.