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Lioba Hirsch


Lioba-Hirsch.jpgUCL Department of Geography
University College London
North-West Wing
Gower Street


Dr. Alan Ingram (UCL Geography)
Dr. Ben Page (UCL Geography)

Dr Ilan Kelman (Institute for Global Health)



Antiblackness and global health: placing the 2014-15 Ebola response in the colonial wake

This thesis draws on Black Studies to explore how antiblackness is entangled in the field of global health. Drawing on ‘the wake’, a theorisation of Black life in the aftermath of enslavement and colonialism articulated by Christina Sharpe, it argues that the British-led, international response to the Sierra Leonean Ebola epidemic (2014-16) worked through colonial infrastructures and colonial imaginations of Sierra Leone as a de-historicised landscape, unaffected by transatlantic antiblack violence. It enhances existing analyses of the response by showing that historical entanglements of care and antiblackness signal ‘the wake’ as an epistemic and geographical reality. In Sierra Leone this reality is largely normalised and was, despite its ubiquity, given little consideration in the international Ebola response. The thesis takes the form of a multi-sited, non-linear, geographical study of the international response. It shows that ‘the wake’ underlies the international Ebola response; that it can be traced in Freetown’s cityscape, in the mobilities connecting Sierra Leone and the UK, in British archives and in colonial and contemporary expert accounts. Methodologically the research draws on interviews with international health responders and members of the Sierra Leonean diaspora involved in the Ebola response, fieldwork in Sierra Leone and London, and archival research on British colonial disease control. The empirical chapters examine the response in relation to ‘the wake’ in terms of the following themes: material and atmospheric traces of colonialism and enslavement in and around Freetown; disease control-related aeromobilities; colonial and postcolonial expertise; and care and care practices. The thesis demonstrates the value of placing contemporary global health in ‘the wake’ in order to rethink where and how we study the colonial present. In conclusion, it shows how ideas from Black studies should inform further research on global health in terms of unpacking postcolonial silences, centering Black perspectives and highlighting the endurance of colonial infrastructures.

This research is funded by the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and a UCL cross-disciplinary training scholarship.


Work Experience

Co-Coordinator of the University of London’s Africa Research Student Network (AfNET), 10/2015 - 11/2016

National Researcher (with Jamie Schearer), ENAR Shadow Reports on Racism in Europe, 2014 - 2015  - German Report

Provincial Governance Coordinator, German Development Cooperation (GIZ) Zambia, 04/2015 – 09/2015

Provincial Governance Advisor, German Development Cooperation (GIZ) Zambia, 06/2014 – 03/2015

Co-Organiser of European Network of People of African Descent’s first Networking Meeting, 12/2013 – 03/2014

Co-Founder of Migrant Workers Task Force, Beirut, Lebanon, 01/2011 – 01- 2012

Academic Background

MPhil/PhD student, Department of Geography, University College London (UCL), 2015 - ongoing

MSc Political Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), 2011 - 2013

American University of Beirut (Year abroad), 2010 - 2011

BA Political Sciences, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po.), 2008 - 2011



Hirsch, L. A. (2019). In the wake: Interpreting care and global health through Black geographies. Area, 0(0).
Hirsch, L. (2018). When in Rome...: Navigating Decolonial Research as a Diasporic Black Woman. In R. Jackson & M. Kelly (Eds.), Women Researching in Africa - The Impact of Gender. Palgrave Macmillan.

Conference Papers

Hirsch, L. Bodies in flux: movement and disease control along colonial and anti-colonial currents. Paper Presented at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. New Orleans, USA, 10/04/18-14/04/18

Hirsch, L. Quarantine, Race and Global Health. Paper presented at Science/Technology/Security: Challenges to global governance? Conference at UCL, 20-21 June 2016, London, UK

Hirsch, L. “Menschen afrikanischer Abstammung in Deutschland: Ergebnisse und Empfehlungen des Schattenberichts des Europäischen Netzwerks gegen Rassismus.” Presentation of the results of the German Shadow Report on Racism at the official launch event of the UN Decade for People of African Descent in Berlin, 07/06/2016

Redefining the Past, Imagining the Future. Organisation of the yearly Africa Research Students Network Conference at SOAS, University of London, 25/05/2016


Participant Information

If you are interested in my PhD research on the use of quarantine and the Ebola epidemic, you can find useful information below. Please do not hesitate to email me should any further questions arise.


The Sierra Leonean Diaspora in the United Kingdom

I am interested in the experience and involvement of members of the Sierra Leonean diaspora in the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic that affected Sierra Leone between 2014-2016. Specifically I am interested in the activities and practices that took place to fundraise, organise, network or contribute to the Ebola response in any way. I also focus on mobilities. In this context, this means that I am on the one hand interested in the mobilisation of skills and finances within the diaspora as well as the motivations and politics of citizenship and belonging that led to these mobilisations. On the other hand my interest pertains to geographic and spatial mobility of the diaspora both between the UK and Sierra Leone and within each of the two countries at the moment of the Ebola epidemic.


International Responders

I am equally interested in the experiences and mobilities of international responders who traveled to Sierra Leone between 2014-2016 to work to contain the epidemic. This includes, medical, logistics, epidemiological, military, NGO, charity and other staff. I am particularly keen to find out how responders worked on the epidemic, whether and how they implemented quarantines or other spatial forms of disease control, and how their movement was affected by both the epidemic and the measures put in place to stop it. Again, this pertains especially to their movement within Sierra Leone but also to their movement between Sierra Leone and the UK or another country of residence.



Heinrich-Böll Foundation 3-year PhD Scholarship

UCL Cross-Disciplinary Training Scholarhip - hosted at UCL's Institute for Global Health (2018-19)