Current Institutional Affiliation
CX Design Strategist, Strategy and Innovation, Premera Blue Cross

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of California / Los Angeles
The War Against Trachoma: Ophthalmology between Jews and Arabs, 1914-1973

My dissertation investigates how the ocular disease trachoma became a focal point in reconfiguring notions of “Arab” and “Jew” through bodies, medical practices, scientific discourses, and ethnographic observations in Mandate Palestine and Israel from 1914-1973. Trachoma’s unique etiology and prevalence in Arab and Yemenite Jewish settlements allowed Jewish ophthalmologists in Mandate Palestine to construct it as a marker of severe poverty, cultural backwardness, and the “East.” I argue that the Hadassah Medical Organization therefore launched an intensive “war against trachoma” not only to eradicate the disease, but to culturally differentiate Yemenite Jews from Palestinian Arabs and integrate them into the burgeoning national body. I will explore the socio-medical discourses physicians employed that contributed to the “Arabization” of trachoma; the relationship between Orientalist knowledge and biomedical practice; and how ophthalmologists in private practice produced alternate visions of their relationship to Eastern patients. Rather than only placing my study of Hadassah’s anti-trachoma campaign within a nationalist framework, I am proposing to make comparative Jewish connections between trachoma treatments and discourses in Israel, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. French Jewish philanthropic organizations were all involved in anti-trachoma projects in Jewish communities in North Africa in the 1950s to prepare Jews to immigrate to Israel. Understanding these efforts uncovers transnational histories of public health by placing Middle Eastern Jews within their countries of origin and Israel before and after 1948. I would also like to investigate the legacy of Israel’s ophthalmic expertise within the global context of decolonization. The Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem’s Ophthalmology Department became the frontrunner of sub-Saharan African medical relief. I argue that these development projects aligned with previous cultural conceptions about ocular disease.