Vanessa Noble

Vanessa Noble

Vanessa Noble Position Lecturer
Discipline History, Society and Social Change Cluster
Phone 033 260 5590/5320
Campus Pietermaritzburg campus
Office address: Room 312, New Arts Block, 

Degrees Held

B.A., B.A. (Hons) and M.A. (Natal) and PhD (University of Michigan, Dec 2005).

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 2014  

  • 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.
  • HIST301: Maladies and Medicines in the Making of Modern Africa

    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.
  • HIST740: History, Culture and Society

    This course examines some of the contemporary debates about the different ways in which ‘the past’ is constructed in the present. It considers past and current ferments in academic history; the emergence of the historical ‘profession’, as well as the influence of politics, economics and socio-cultural factors on the making of ‘the past’. Furthermore, consideration is also made of the complexities of personal and collective memories (including commemorations) on the writing of history.

Other courses taught in the past

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



  • Vanessa Noble. A School of Struggle: A History of the Durban Medical School and the Education of Black Doctors in South Africa (Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press, 2013.

Book Chapters

  • “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” (under review for a publication by the WHO and the Centre for Global Health Histories, University of York on the international history of primary health care). 

Journal Articles

  • “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.

Recent Awards and Honours

  • 2012: Swiss South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) seven weeks short-stay research grant (this application was jointly made with Professor Patrick Harries and Mr Marcel Dreier).
  • 2012: Wellcome Trust (UK) small grant was awarded to Associate Professor Julie Parle and myself to organise an international workshop on histories of health, healing and medicine in African contexts.


  • 2014: Siyabonga Nxumalo (in progress) Student only started in July 2014 and is still developing his topic.
  • 2014: Zinhle Thwala (in progress) Student only started in July 2014 and is still developing her topic.
  • 2014 Amanda-Bea Rehman (in progress) Thesis working title: Nurses as Cultural Brokers: A Biography of a South African nurse, Marriet Duduzile Rehman (1940-2009).
  • 2013 Sizwe Mgwaba (completed) Thesis title: ‘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 (completed) Thesis title: ‘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 (completed) Thesis title: Making Men: Maritzburg College and the Construction of a Militaristic Masculinity, 1888-1918.
  • 2008 Michelle Floyd (completed) Thesis title: “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.

Community Engagement

  • Member of the UKZN Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives Advisory Committee, Pietermaritzburg (2011 to date).
  • History representative for UKZN’s School of Social Sciences Research and Higher Degrees Committee (2013 to date).
  • Public presentations for various organizations, including the UKZN Alumni Association, the Peter Brown Memorial Seminar and International Students’ Interstudy Programme.
  • Reviewer for several academic journals, such as Medical History and Alternation and the South African National Research Foundation.
  • Reviewer for graduate level students’ proposals at UKZN.
  • Editorial work for journals, including Medical History (I was a co-guest editor for the first issue of 2014) and Journal of Natal and Zulu History (I was a co-editor with two other History colleagues between 2006-2009).
  • Member of the Southern African Historical Society (2008 to date).
  • Member of the Van Riebeeck Society (2014).

Research Projects

  • Additional research and writing has involved collaborative work. One project, which has been co-researched with two South African-based historians (Julie Parle and Catherine Burns) is on the history of the controversial McCord Hospital in Durban; today a 104 year old missionary hospital which has recently been in the news because of its financial problems and eventual take-over by the provincial department of health. During the last few years, this project brought together a team of UKZN academics and graduate student interns to do archival and oral interview research on the history of this institution. The manuscript for a book is in progress and under review for publication.  
  • More recently, I embarked on a collaborative research project with Marcel Dreier, a Swiss colleague from the University of Basel on the history of a Swiss woman missionary doctor. Maria Kunz came to South Africa in the 1930s and pioneered the provision of district and hospital health care services to rural communities in the Glen Grey District in the eastern Cape region. Dreier and I started our research on this project at the end of 2012 and our collaborative research and writing activities will continue until 2016/2017. Journal publications, a small travelling exhibition and a book are all important future outcomes of this project.