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Ellen Amster

Ellen J. Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Department of History. Her first book, Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956 (Texas 2013) describes the encounter between France and Morocco through medicine and public health. The work suggests that colonialism can be studied as a process of embodiment, in which Islamic and positivist epistemologies have been ingested and digested by the body. While much of her research is biomedical, a significant theme is non-Western healing, especially visitation of Islamic awliya’ ("saints") and the touching of graves, tombs, and buildings. Physical geographies of the body serve to anchor Moroccan, Islamic, and historical meaning in place, a theme explored in Medicine and the Saints and in "The Mad Saint as Healer: The Islamic Majnun in al-Kattani’s Salwat al-Anfas and in French Colonial Medicine and Sociologie," Henk de Smaele, Tineke Osselaer, and Kaat Wils-Verhaegen (eds.), Sign or Symptom? Exceptional Corporeal Phenomena in Medicine and Religion (19th and 20th century) (Leuven).
Her current research projects include a study of transvestism (French-Muslim, male-female, Muslim-Jew, Arabic-French) in North Africa as an expression of colonial and post-colonial identity. The project examines a migration of religious materiality from the sacred to the profane; a significant Moroccan population circulates between Canada, Europe, Morocco and Israel. A related project explores Islamic sainthood, a translation from Arabic to English of the nineteenth-century Moroccan hagiographical compendium by Muhammad ibn Ja’far al-Kattani, Salwat al-Anfas wa muhadathat al- akyas bi man ‘uqbira min al-‘ulama’ wa al-sulaha’ bi fas (Entertainment of the souls and discourse of the most sagacious concerning the scholars and righteous men buried in the city of Fez). Her research also touches upon midwifery, the modern history of public health, global health, French and Islamic medical history, and Islamic studies. She has been a simultaneous translator for an ORBIS ocular surgery mission in Morocco and takes students to Morocco for a global public health program in the social determinants of maternal and infant health.
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