Middle East historian brings global perspective to Hannah Chair

By Amanda Boundris, September 29, 2014
    'My new role at McMaster is to bring together the humanities and social sciences with health sciences, and to do it from a global perspective,' said Ellen Amster. The endowed Hannah Chair was funded in part by a $2 million donation from Associated Medical Services.

An historian of Middle East medicine has been appointed as the Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine.

Ellen Amster joins McMaster on Oct. 1 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she has been a professor of history since 2003.

The purpose of the Hannah Chair is to develop scholarship in the history of medicine, and to encourage McMaster students (including medical students) to become interested in the history of the discipline.

"My new role at McMaster is to bring together the humanities and social sciences with health sciences, and to do it from a global perspective," said Amster.

Amster is an expert on transnational health issues and the social history of biomedicine in global context.

Her focus involves public health, maternal and infant health, and the encounters between western and Islamic medicines. Her work draws upon the western history of medicine, from the Ancient Greeks to the twentieth century, and anthropological methodologies from the study of health and healing in Africa.

She created a global health study abroad program called Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco: Women's Rights and Family in Islam to look at the determinants of health in Morocco. Amster said she is looking forward to recreating the program at McMaster, and developing other global health opportunities for students in health sciences and other fields.

Holger Schünemann, chair of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, where Amster will be based, said that traditionally CE&B has been a multidisciplinary department that has benefitted from different thoughts, approaches to research and exchange of ideas.

"Ellen Amster brings a new perspective of approaching health research with the lens of a historian," said Schünemann. "Her international work in North Africa with midwives, and her work on beliefs in health care, are of great interest to the department with our new efforts in public health and the related master’s program."

Pamela Swett, chair of the Department of History, where Amster is jointly appointed, said: "Ellen brings to McMaster a truly interdisciplinary outlook on education, and plans to engage students across campus by demonstrating how the historical analysis of contemporary medical questions can lead to better health care."

The endowed chair was funded in part by a $2 million donation from Associated Medical Services.