Julie Livingston is a medical historian who combines archival research with ethnography to explore the care and treatment of individuals suffering from chronic illnesses and debilitating ailments in Botswana, a middle-income country with a system of universal health care. Drawing on her interdisciplinary training in anthropology and public health, Livingston augments the history of medicine with a history of emotions, spotlighting the bodily vulnerability of populations facing the challenges of twenty-first-century political and economic development.
Her descriptions of the adaptive responses of caregivers and communities in Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (2005) illuminates how traditional healing and caregiving practices have been reshaped and reconfigured by regional political and economic dislocation and Western biomedical ideas and techniques. In Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic (2012), Livingston tracks Botswana’s rapidly emerging cancer epidemic by documenting the daily medical ordeals of patients and caregivers in the country’s public oncology ward. On this stage, European and African doctors and African nurses improvise with patients and their relatives to treat horrific wounds, manage acute pain, and mediate terminal illness in the face of language barriers, cultural differences, inadequate staffing, obsolete equipment and technologies, and limited supplies of critical resources.
By unflinchingly detailing an over-extended medical infrastructure and the families and health care providers who navigate it, Livingston exposes the limits of biomedicine and the unlikelihood that technology alone will fix health issues in Africa or anywhere else. Such in-depth examination of physical impairment and terminal disability is challenging global health partners to address a very real but largely ignored crisis of care in Africa, and Livingston is poised to begin a new project about suicide in New York City that promises additional fresh and enduring insights into pressing public health concerns.
Julie Livingston received a B.A. (1989) from Tufts University, an M.A. (1992) and M.P.H. (1993) from Boston University, and a Ph.D. (2001) from Emory University. She was affiliated with the Federated History Department of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, Newark (2002–2003), before joining the faculty of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in 2003, where she is a professor in the Department of History. She is the co-editor of Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions (2010), as well as numerous articles and book chapters.