School of Social Sciences

Vanessa Noble

Vanessa Noble


Contact Number







Howard College Campus

Office Address


Degrees Held

  • B.A., B.A. (Hons)
  • M.A. (Natal)
  • PhD (University of Michigan).

Research Interests

  • My research focuses on a number of issues to do with the social history of health, healing and diseases in Africa more broadly, but with a particular interest in biomedicine, especially the history of medical education and professionalization; missionary medicine; medical institutions; different categories of health care providers; the complexities of medical pluralism and brokerage; histories of scientific knowledge production and circulations, including transnationally; race, class and gender differentials in science and medicine; the links between politics, activism and medicine; and histories of public health and community-oriented primary health care in the region of southern Africa. I also have an interest in work on the history of women and gender.

Teaching Interests

Courses taught in recent years

HIST104: The Making of the Modern World

In order to understand the world South Africans find themselves in today, a long term understanding of world history is required. In broad terms, this first year level course examines the centuries of world history from the emergence of the ‘first world system’ (from circa 900 CE) to the establishment of Western European domination by the mid-1700s.  Even five hundred years ago there were few signs that Europe would come to dominate the world in which we live. Indeed, in global historical terms, until recently that region lay far from the centres of economic, artistic, cultural, and political vitality. Rather, the most dynamic centres of importance and innovation were to be found in the societies of Islam, and amongst those of Asia, and especially in China. In this course, we consider the world before European hegemony; and then the major forces – economic, political, ecological, technological and cultural – of change that brought the Old and New worlds into contact after the 1400s; the profound impacts of this process of contact; and then the creation of a new world order, though it took until 1750 for ‘the West’ to establish its dominance over much of the globe. This is not a story of Western triumphalism, however, and this course also takes into account the experiences of Asian, African and American and other colonised peoples. It demonstrates how study of the paths of contact and conquest, and of the responses of colonized peoples, lays a necessary foundation for understanding the making of the modern and the contemporary world of states, empires and ideas, which is the focus of the second semester module.
HIST201: Culture and History in 19th and 20th Centuries KwaZulu-Natal

The province of KwaZulu-Natal combines the promises and the perils confronting South Africa in almost equal measure: a vibrant political system, a rich cultural life, prosperous tourist and export industries are tempered by high levels of unemployment, criminality and epidemic disease. To understand KwaZulu-Natal and its hinterland is to have a strong understanding of the entire country, and, uniquely amongst South African provinces, an appreciation of the complexities, problems and promises of Africa. This module aims to equip students with an understanding of the range and power of South African, and other African, scholarly approaches to the rich culture and history of KwaZulu-Natal from the nineteenth century to the present. It combines an investigation of key sites in the production of popular culture, ecology, economics and politics with an introduction to the rich historiography that frames each of these subjects. Some of its key areas of interest include: Southern Africa before colonialism; the Zulu Revolution reconsidered; colonial rule; the destruction of Zulu independence; Indian indentured labour; popular protest and political movements; urban segregation; worker struggles; health and healing; apartheid and forced removals; the “Durban moment” of the 1970s; crises and challenges of the 1980s and 1990s; HIV/AIDS.
HIST301: Topics in African History

This course examines the history of disease, health and healing in the context of changing economic, political and cultural relations in Africa. It is particularly interested in analysing the impact of colonial and post-colonial development on patterns of disease and healing. Amongst others, key topics to be discussed include: what constitutes “health”, “healing” and “disease” and how these definitions change depending on time and place, African healing ideas and practices, therapeutic pluralism, colonial conquest and impacts of biomedicine, scientific racism, neo-colonial trends in health care in the independence era, and controversies surrounding the current HIV/AIDS epidemic. In addition to lectures, discussions and readings, this course will draw on film clips and primary source materials to help students visualise the contexts and themes we will cover.
HIST700: Theory and Methods in Historical Research

This module provides postgraduate students with understanding of key historical theories and methodologies that have affected the discipline of History. It is designed to guide students in learning the craft of the professional historian. This course has a number of objectives: It seeks to pay close attention to the writings and research techniques of some excellent historians and key scholars from other disciplines who have influenced the profession; to provide an overview to the major schools of historiography over the past two centuries; to  consider innovative treatment of sources, the workings of good historical writing, and engagement with key theoretical arguments that have motivated historians over this time period; to identify and critique the politics of the study of the past and to contextualize students’ own work and that of historians in the profession; to train students in the methods of the Historical discipline (such as archival research and oral history); to improve students’ critical thinking and communication skills in written and oral form by encouraging them to participation in seminar discussions, and to write analytical essays; and to help students understand the value of ethical research practices.

Other courses taught in the past

  • Empires of the Modern World
  • Pre-colonial African History
  • Women and Gender in History
  • Topics in Twentieth Century History


  • ‘The People’s Hospital’: A History of McCords, Durban, 1890s-1970s, co-authored with Julie Parle (Pietermaritzburg: Natal Society Foundation, 2017).
  • A School of Struggle: Durban’s Medical School and the Education of Black Doctors in South Africa (Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press, 2013).
  • “Rural Practice in South Africa” in John P. Geyman, Thomas E. Norris and L. Gary Hart (eds). Textbook of Rural Medicine (New York: McGraw-Hill, Medical Publishing Division, 2001), co-authored with Stephen J. Reid and Ian D. Couper.
  • “From Pioneer to Pariah to a Post-Apartheid Phoenix? Primary Health Care in South Africa” in Alexander Medcalf, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Hooman Momen, Monica Saavedra and Margaret Jones (eds). Health for All: The Journey to Universal Health Coverage (Hyderabad, India: Orient Blackswan, 2015).
  • ‘On the Roadside: Maria Kunz and the Practice of Itinerant Missionary Doctoring in Rural South Africa, 1930s to 1970s’, Social History of Medicine (2018).
  • ‘Memory Struggles: Remembering the Apartheid Era by University of Natal Medical Alumni, 1990s to the early 2000s’, Historia, 60, no. 1 (May 2015).
  • “New Directions in Histories of Health, Healing and Medicine in Southern Africa”, guest editorial, co-authored with Julie Parle for special edition of Medical History (April 2014).
  •  “’The Hospital was just like a Home’: Self, Service and the McCord Hospital Family”, co-authored article with Julie Parle for a special edition of Medical History (April 2014).
  • “A Medical Education with a Difference: A History of the Training of Black Student Doctors in Social, Preventive and Community-Oriented Primary Health Care at the University of Natal Medical School, 1940s-1960”, South African Historical Journal, 61, 3 (September 2009).
  • “Health is much too important a subject to be left to Doctors: African Assistant Health Workers in Natal during the Early Twentieth Century”, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, Vols. 24 & 25 (2006-2007), 95-134.
  • “Introduction” (Theme: HIV/Aids in KwaZulu-Natal), Passages no. 2 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, June 2005), co-authored with David W. Cohen.

Awards and Professional Honours

  • Member of the Campbell Archive Collections Advisory Committee, 2017 to date.
  • Member of the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archive Advisory Committee, 2011 to date.
  • Member of the Southern African Historical Society, 2008 to date.
  • Editorial board member of the Cambridge journal, Medical History, 2015 to 2017.
  • Co-editor of the Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 2006-2009
  • Swiss South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) short-stay grant, History Department, University of Basel, 2012.
  • Wellcome Trust (UK) small grant was awarded to fund an international workshop in August entitled “New Directions in the Histories of Health, Healing and Medicine in African Contexts” (this application was jointly made with Julie Parle), 2012.
  • Awards granted whilst studying for my PhD between 1999 and 2005:
    • University of Michigan History Department Fellowships
    • Centre for African and African-American Studies/South African Initiatives Office Research Grant
    • African Initiative Fellowship
    • Rackham Summer Fellowship – History
    • Gladys Davis Fellowship
    • Rackham Humanities Research Candidacy Fellowship
    • Robin I. Thevenet Memorial Fellowship
    • Rackham International Travel Grant
    • Women’s Studies D’Arms Summer Research Travel Grant
  • University of Natal Postgraduate Scholarship, 1997 and 1998
  • Centre for Science Development (CSD) Postgraduate Scholarship for Advanced Study in the Human Sciences, 1997 and 1998.


  • 2018. Nontobeko Ngubane. MSc. Divided Facilities: Early Cottage Hospitals and the Provision of Health Care Services to Blacks in Natal, 1880s-1910.
  • 2018. Zinhle Thwala. MSc. Bleaching to become Beautiful: The Use of Skin Lighteners and the Effects on African Women in Newcastle, Madadeni Township, 1950s to 2000s.
  • 2017. Siyabonga Nxumalo. MSc. A Social History of the Experiences of Physically Disabled People in KwaZulu-Natal, 1970s to 2000s.
  • 2017. Thabile Nawe. Hons. A Social History of the Experiences of Abahlali BaseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) in Lamontville, Durban, 1980s-1990s.
  • 2017. Amanda-Bea Rehman. MSc. Against the Odds: A Social History of African Women Medical Doctors in South Africa, 1940s-2000s.
  • 2016. Ncobile Mahlalela. Hons. Men and Nursing: A Biography of a Retired Nurse, Blue Luphoko, 1940s to 2000s.
  • 2015. Siyabonga Nxumalo. Hons. Anne Harley: The Life and Work of a Black Sash Member and Researcher, late 1980s to early 1990s.
  • 2015. Zinhle Thwala. Hons. Nester Nomusa Nkosi: The Life of a Domestic Worker in South Africa, 1956- 1989 and at Retirement.
  • 2014. Amanda-Bea Rehman. Hons. Nurses as Cultural Brokers: A Biography of a South African nurse, Marriet Duduzile Rehman, 1940-2009.
  • 2013. Sizwe Mgwaba. Hons. ‘More than just a game’: The historical development of soccer during the apartheid period at the University of Natal (1950s to 1990s).
  • 2011. Adam Cassimjee. Hons. ‘A Good Training Ground’: The Lives of Four South African Indian Doctors who graduated in the Republic of Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s.
  • 2011. Dylan Loser. Hons. Making Men: Maritzburg College and the Construction of a Militaristic Masculinity, 1888-1918.
  • 2008. Michelle Floyd. Hons. ‘Not of a Nature to Swell the Historic Page: The Lives and Work of Three American Medical Missionaries’ Wives at McCord Hospital, Durban, 1899-1966.

Research Projects/Activities

  • Social histories of health, healing and medicine in South Africa
  • A collaborative and transnational Swiss-South Africa research project with Dr Marcel Dreier on the history of rural health care and missionary medicine in the Eastern Cape.