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Claire Edington

Associate Professor, History

[pdf of CV]

Claire Edington 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 is a historian of medicine and the French empire, with a focus on colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. Her research examines the way medical experts, state institutions and popular beliefs shaped the lives of marginalized people in Vietnam throughout the twentieth century. She is centrally interested in how ideas about deviance and disease travel across cultures and what everyday exchanges between lay people and experts can tell us about the social history of Vietnam. Professor Edington's work has appeared in Comparative Studies in Society and HistoryJournal of Global Public Health and Journal of Health Policy, Politics and Law

Her book, Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam, is now available with Cornell University Press :

Drawing on hundreds of patient case files discovered in the archives in both Vietnam and France, Beyond the Asylum follows the movements of patients in and out of asylums and between prisons, poor houses, youth reformatories, hospitals and family homes. Together, these individual patient itineraries challenge our notion of the colonial asylum as a closed setting where patients rarely left, run by experts who enjoyed broad and unquestioned authority. Instead, they reveal how ideas about what it meant to be abnormal, as well as normal enough to return to social life, were debated between psychiatrists, colonial authorities and the public throughout the early decades of twentieth century. Vietnamese families sought the care of local and foreign experts but they also discovered recipes for home remedies in the pages of popular scientific journals that appeared in interwar Vietnam as part of an emerging local print culture. Beyond the Asylum argues that Vietnamese families and communities actively participated in psychiatric decision-making in ways that strengthened the power of the colonial state even as they forced French experts to engage with local understandings and practices around insanity.

Her next major research project examines how transnational networks of experts and policymakers shaped drug addiction – as a medical condition and social problem – in Vietnam throughout the twentieth century, from the colonial period through the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and how these policies shaped the lives of drug addicts and their families.

Professor Edington teaches undergraduate courses in the history of medicine and public health, modern Southeast Asian history, the history of drugs and drug policy, and the history of European imperialism. Her graduate courses include the History of the Body, Madness and Society, Colonial and Postcolonial Science Studies, and Comparative Imperialisms.