Dr Jonathan RobertsAssociate Professor
BA, MA McGill University
PhD Dalhousie University


Jonathan Roberts is a specialist in the history of medicine and religion in West Africa. His recent book, Sharing the Burden of Sickness: A History of Healing and Medicine in Accra, is the culmination of years of archival and interview research in the capital of Ghana. Roberts asserts that a commitment to pluralism, rather than a singular medical tradition, allowed several forms of a healing to flourish in Accra. This meant that Western medicine, rather than triumphing as the dominant healing paradigm, became only one of many options for patients and their caregivers. This focus on pluralism guides his current project: A History of Western Medicine in Africa.

Jonathan has also written about the history of pandemics, teaches a course at MSVU called Plagues and Peoples, and has offered public commentary on outbreaks of Ebola, influenza and COVID-19. He advocates for transparency and openness during pandemics, as a way to avoid the scapegoating, misinformation, and conspiracy theories that always emerge during pandemics.

Jonathan also has several side interests, including the history of food (which he teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University), the problem of witchcraft in Africa (which has addressed in academic journals), and the politics of heritage tourism at slave forts in West Africa (including the troubling outcomes of leasing slave castles to white investors).

Select Publications

2024. “Are Elephants Beautiful? The historical sources of a hybrid environmental aesthetics at Mole National Park, Ghana,” Ghana Studies.

2023. Book Review: Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines. Kwasi Konadu. Our Own Way in this Part of the World: Biography of an African Community, Culture and Nation. Duke University Press, 2020.

2023. Book Review: Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines. John Janzen. Health in a Fragile State. University of Wisconsin Press, 2019.

2022. “The creation of an African ‘bloodstream’: Malaria control during the Hitler War, 1942–1945,” Spectator (Ghana). Three-part series. April 9, 14. May 12.

2022. Book Review: Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines. Adam Ashforth. The Trials of Mrs. K.: Seeking Justice in a World with Witches. University of Chicago Press, 2020.

2022. Book Review: Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines. Charles Piot, with Kodjo Nicolas Batema. The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles. Duke University Press, 2018.

2021. Alexander Kwarteng, Jonathan Roberts, Kristi Heather Kenyon, Mary Asirifi. “Why it’s hard to end elephantiasis, a debilitating disease spread by mosquitoes,” The Conversation, Aug 30. https://theconversation.com/why-its-hard-to-end-elephantiasis-a-debilitating-disease-spread-by-mosquitoes-166627

2021. Sharing the Burden of Sickness: A History of Healing and Medicine in Accra. Indiana University Press. https://www.amazon.com/Sharing-Burden-Sickness-History-Medicine/dp/0253057949

2020. Pandemics Past and Present. Podcast. 10 episodes. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/vampire-pandemics-past-and-present/id1512586864

2020. “Scapegoating part of every pandemic; let’s not repeat history,” Halifax Chronicle Herald, January 29.

2020. Roberts, Jonathan, Richard Nii Oshiu Codjoe, Jenny Davison, Flair Martin, Janet Mills, and Zackary Parsons.”Medicine for Hatred: Civil, Criminal, and Supernatural Justice at the Nae We Shrine Tribunal in Accra, Ghana,” African Studies Review, 1-23. This article was co-written by Jonathan Roberts, Nii Oshiu Codjoe, Janet Mills, Zackary Parsons, Jenny Davison and Flair Martin.  It follows from research funded by a British Library Endangered Archives grant.

2019. Book Review. Power, Culture and Modernity in Nigeria: Beyond the Colony by Oluwatoyin Oduntan, New York, Routledge, 2018. Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines 53, no. 3.

2018. Meeting Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu. Ghana Studies Association (website). Celebrating the Life and Achievements of Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu.

2017. “Six reasons why Crosby should dodge Trump’s White House,” Chronicle Herald (Halifax). September 27, 2017. http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1506382-opinion-six-reasons-why-crosby-should-dodge-trump%E2%80%99s-white-house

2017. “Western Medicine in Africa, Part II: Ethiopia, East and Southern Africa to 1900”. History Compass. 15, no. 8.

2017. “Western Medicine in Africa to 1900, Part I: North, West and Central Africa”. History Compass. 15, no. 8.

2016. “Western Medicine in Africa to 1900,” History Compass.

2016. Book Review: Canadian Journal of African History. Carina Ray. Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2015.

2016. “Robert Fidler demolishes his other castle – the one he built in England,” Today (Ghana), July 18 2016, 25.

2015. “Heritage vs. History in the Commemoration of War in Cape Breton Highlands National Park,” David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski, and Martha Walls. ActiveHistory.ca. July 7, 2015 (http://activehistory.ca/2015/07/heritage-vs-history-in-the-commemoration-of-war-in-cape-breton-highlands-national-park/).

2015. “‘Mother Canada’ elevates bombastic heritage over subtlety of history,” David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski, and Martha Walls. Chronicle Herald (Halifax, NS) June 5, 2015.

2014. “Let’s rebrand Ebola as EHF (Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever),” Today (Ghana) October 20, 13.

2014. “Dungeons, castles or resorts? The changing utility and meaning of the slave forts of Ghana” Transitions 114 (2014) 88-107.
– nominated for the Pushcart Prize, November, 2014.

2014. “Brit Fights Ghana Gov’t Over 300-year-old Fort at Dixcove,” published in Today (newspaper, Accra, Ghana). Apr 24th, 2014. https://www.todaygh.com/2014/04/24/brit-fights-ghana-govt-300-year-old-fort-dixcove/
Republished on:

2011. “Medical exchange on the Gold Coast during the Atlantic slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries,” in Canadian Journal of African Studies 45, no. 3 (2011)

2011. “Memories of Korle Bu: biomedicine, racism, and colonial nostalgia in Accra, Ghana,” in History in Africa 28 (2011): 193-226.

2011. “Ritual interment as a challenge to funerary conventions in Accra, Ghana: the case of agbalegba,” in Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon, edited by Michael Jindra & Joel Noret (New York: Berghan): 207-226.

2010. “Korle and the mosquito: Histories and memories of the antimalaria campaign, Accra, 1942-5,” Journal of African History 51, 3: 343-365.


Jonathan Roberts wearing a face mask with the message "analyse, critique, remember history... or doomed to repeat"

African Children posing for a greyscale photo

Kwame Nkrumah statue in greyscale