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The Steamer Parish

The Rise and Fall of Missionary Medicine on an African Frontier

In the mid-1800s, a group of High Anglicans formed the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). Inspired by Dr. David Livingstone, they felt a special calling to bring the Church, education, and medical care to rural Africans. To deliver services across a huge, remote area, the UMCA relied on steamer ships that were sent from England and then reassembled on Lake Malawi. By the mid-1920s, the UMCA had built a chain of mission stations that spread across four hundred miles.

In The Steamer Parish, Charles M. Good Jr. traces the Mission’s history and its lasting impact on public health care in south-central Africa-and shows how steam and medicine, together with theology, allowed the Mission to impose its will, indelibly, on hundreds of thousands of people. What’s more, many of the issues he discusses-rural development, the ecological history of disease, and competition between western and traditional medicine-are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

440 pages | 26 halftones, 12 line drawings, 23 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2004

University of Chicago Geography Research Papers

African Studies

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: African History

Religion: Religion and Society


“A goldmine for research scholars.”

Robert Stevenson and Ken Mufuka | The Historian

“Good’s elegant presentation unearths the tatters and the self-proclaimed glories of empire from the service history of a now dilapidated hulk. Generously embracing both the poignancy of an ill-starred enterprise, and the blinkered obstinacy contributing to its eventual obsolescence, Good elaborates a thematic agenda no historian of medical mission can well ignore.”

Medical History

“Enlivened by numerous biographical profiles . . . and drawing upon a painstaking reading of archival records and missionary journals, The Steamer Parish makes an important contribution to our understanding of the origins of the contemporary crisis of public health care systems in Central Africa.”

Giacomo Macola | Journal of African History

“In an immensely attractive format, this splendid book offers us an unexpectedly profound insight into a specific form of a much wider phenomenon, the Protestant medical mission in sub-Saharan British Africa.”

Roy MacLeod | International History Review

“An important book, and an excellent addition to the historiography of this part of Africa.”

Owen J.M. Kalinga | H-Net Reviews

“The historically detailed account of the institutionalization of technological strategies for evangelism and imperialism will be of great use to students of African missions and African medical history, as will the evidence Good compiles on the landscape of biomedical diseases and services. Furthermore, by illustrating the way that technological histories played out in the ‘margins’ as particular objects moved from Europe to Africa, this book makes a valuable contribution to literature on technology and society.”

Stacey Langwick | International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This splendidly written and meticulously researched volume presents a fascinating case study and critique of the medical activities of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa in Malawi over the eighty-year period from 1885 to 1964. . . The Steamer Parish represents historical medical geography at its finest. Charles Good not only carries his readers back to the issues of a long-ago era in Africa, but also casts them in the context of current relevance. As a result, his superbly crafted work will be of great value to many.”

Pascal James Imperato | African Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Christian Medical Missions and African Studies
2. The Lake Malawi Region: Forces of Change in the Late Nineteenth Century
3. The Return of the UMCA to Malawi: Technology and Political Relations in the Quest for Permanent Influence
4. Expanding the Steamer Parish: Ten Thousand Square Miles for Mission
5. Steamer Technology, Local Ecology, and Regional Economy
6. Health in Sub-Saharan Africa and Malawi on the Eve of Colonization
7. Medical Services for Missionaries and Africans
8. Gauging Change: African Health and Well-being
9. Treatment and Control: Limits and Contradictions of Science and Missionary Medicine
10. The Rise and Fall of Missionary Medicine

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