by Celia Breuer, Global Health Major

Claire Edington, Assistant Professor of History at UCSD, received her PhD in the History and Ethics of Public Health (Department of Sociomedical Sciences) from Columbia University in 2013. Before joining the faculty at UCSD, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University from 2013-2014 and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts-Boston from 2014-2015. Professor Edington’s research interests include the history of medicine and public health, the history of the French empire, and Southeast Asian Studies, especially the history of Vietnam. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the social history of psychiatry and mental illness in French colonial Vietnam. Her next project will examine the history of drug policy in Southeast Asia from the colonial period to the present, focusing on the collision of local approaches to drug users with international discourses around public health and human rights. Professor Edington teaches introductory courses in the history of European imperialism and the history of global health, as well as specialized courses in the history of medicine and psychiatry, modern Southeast Asian history and the history of drugs and drug policy.

What health issue do you consider the most pressing? Professor Edington considers global mental health as one of the most pressing current health issues. Accordingly, she believes that in order to establish how we can manage challenges in global health, the issue itself needs to be situated on the global health map. She considers the interdependence of physical and mental well-being highly important and states that it has been historically under-recognized, resulting in social stigma surrounding mental health issues. She feels that it is important to make the issue visible for policy makers in order to approach this issue.

What motivated you to become part of the Global Health Undergraduate Program? With her PhD research on the history of medicine and having completed her undergraduate studies in public health, Professor Edington’s involvement with the Global Health Department is what she calls “the next step in long interest” in order to bring together different disciplines when addressing health. She believes that history provides background for policy making, which is an important aspect of global health.

What do you hope students took away from HILD 30 as a core course of the GLBH major? Professor Edington hopes that students of her HILD 30 class understand that we cannot tell history of medicine and disease as a history of progress. Despite significant scientific advancement, it is important to keep in mind that inequality and health disparities continue to persist. She hopes that students were able to understand what has changed and remained the same in the history of medicine, and what medicine and public health approaches in different time periods can tell us about the social world at the time. From this, she hopes, students took away that the history of medicine does not provide one linear narrative.

Tell us about your research.  Professor Edington is particularly interested in mental health and psychiatry in French colonial Vietnam in the late 19th century. Currently working on her book, Professor Edington focuses on the relationships between patients, their families and the state. In this context, she further examines how mental health is negotiated across cultures.

Are you teaching global health classes again? After teaching HILD 30 for the first time last quarter, Professor Edington is currently teaching HIEU 137 – History of Colonialism: From New Imperialism to Decolonization. She will be teaching HILD 30 again in Winter 2016 and is planning a new global health course on the history of tropical disease for Spring 2017.

Any advice for global health students? “Learn as much as you can about global health, but at the same time think critically about the field. The history of global health shapes its priorities and strategies. Understanding this is important in order to find our role in sustaining institutions in a more effective and productive way. It is also important to consider how communities envision their future as well.”

We look forward to having Professor Edington join us on Monday, May 16th at our Quarterly Conversation on the topic of Refugee Health in the Great Hall at UCSD at 3:30 in the afternoon.