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Ellen Amster, Ph.D. (Pennsylvania)

Phone: 905-525-9140 ext. 24144
Office: Chester New Hall 616

McMaster FHS Profile
Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco

Ellen Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine and a historian of the Islamic world, France, and medicine.  She has been a Fulbright scholar, a Chateaubriand scholar of the French government (1998), and received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania (2003).  She has been a simultaneous translator for an ORBIS ocular surgery mission in Morocco, a researcher at the Institut National d’Hygiène du Maroc, and created a determinants of health field study program for students in Morocco, “Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco:  Women’s Rights and Family in Islam.”  Her 2013 book, Medicine and the Saints:  Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956 is an interdisciplinary study of health, healing, and the body in Morocco, based in fifteen years of research in Arabic manuscripts, French colonial and medical archives, and field interviews with Moroccan physicians, nurses, patients, midwives, and leaders of NGOs.  She has served on the United States IIE Fulbright national screening committee for Morocco, Tunisia, and the Gulf States (2010-2013), and is currently on the Board of Directors for the American Institute of Maghrib studies (2013-2015) and the Western Society for French History (2013-2015).  She is jointly appointed in History and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Faculty of Health Sciences.


Dr. Amster’s research addresses the relationship of citizen bodies to the body politic, the history of biomedicine in global context, religion and science, birth and maternal health, the body as the center of political sovereignty, and the encounter of French and Islamic scientific epistemologies.
Current projects include a global history of modern public health, transvestites in French North Africa, midwifery and gynecology in the Islamic world, digital histories of medicine, the biography of French colonial woman artist Aline Reveillaud de Lens, the French sociology of Islam, Sufism, traditional pharmacology, Judeo-Islamic scientific exchange, and an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary issues in health care, the cultural experience of illness, and birth, midwifery, and infant health in North Africa.

Teaching Areas/Courses Offered

*Islamic Civilization, The Formative Period, 500-1258
*A History of Modern Public Health, 1700-present
*Political Islam to Zionism:  Middle East Intellectual History
*Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco:  Women’s Rights and Family in Islam (an interdisciplinary summer global health field course).  Visit the course website and student blog: and listen to a PBS television interview with Dr. Amster.

Selected Publications


2013   Medicine and the Saints:  Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956, (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2013).*Honorable Mention for the Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize of the French Colonial Historical Society, 2014.

Articles and Book Chapters

Forthcoming, “The Syphilitic Arab?  A Search for Civilization in Disease
Etiology, Prostitution, and French Colonial Hygiene,” in Patricia Lorcin and Todd Shepard (eds.), French Mediterraneans, (Lincoln:  University of Nebraska Press, 2016).

Forthcoming, “The Mad Saint as Healer:  The Islamic Majnun in al-Kattani’s
Salwat al-Anfas and in French Colonial Medicine and Sociologie,” in Henk de Smaele, Tineke Osselaer, and Kaat Wils-Verhaegen (eds.), Sign or Symptom?  Exceptional Corporeal Phenomena in Medicine and Religion (19th and 20th century), (Leuven:  University of Leuven Press).

2013 “Rumor and Revolution:  Medicine, Technology, and Popular Politics in
Pre-Protectorate Morocco, 1877-1912,” in ed. Driss Maghraoui, Revisiting the Colonial Past in Morocco, (London and New York:  Routledge):  87-111.

2009  “’The Harem Revealed’ and the Islamic-French Family:  Aline de
Lens and a Frenchwoman’s Orient in Lyautey’s Morocco,” French Historical Studies, Spring 2009 (32:2): 279-312.

2006  “Saints and the Islamic City:  Looking for Sacred Space in Fes, Morocco,”
The Urban History Newsletter, October 2006, Number 36: 1-3.

2004  “The Many Deaths of Dr. Emile Mauchamp: Medicine, Technology, and
Popular Politics in Pre-Protectorate Morocco, 1877-1912,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 36 (2004): 409-428.

2001  “The Attacks Were a Bid for Power in the Arab World,” International
Herald Tribune, September 18, 2001: 10.