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Adia Benton is an associate professor of anthropology and African studies at Northwestern University, where she is affiliated with the Science in Human Culture Program. She is the author of the award-winning book, HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone, and is currently writing a book about the West African Ebola outbreak.
This lecture draws from a chapter in her in-progress book manuscript, The Fever Archive. In that chapter, she weaves together archival and museum research about the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) collaboration with the Atlanta police department in the early 1980s, oral histories of CDC workers who investigated an Ebola outbreak in Magazine Wharf, Freetown, and fieldwork conducted in Sierra Leone after the 2014-16 West African Ebola pandemic to think through critical questions about the political ecology of Ebola, the health-security nexus in global public health and the racialized organizations situated at that nexus. Although the CDC is one of many US health organizations involved in epidemic emergencies in the Global South, it plays a pivotal role in the global health and US cultural imagination, and as a strategic technical partner with other US government agencies, African ministries, and non-governmental organizations. The agency, and the way it is represented through its museum, therefore, is a critical node for examining the broad, global circulations of US racial formations, racialized organizations and their relations to Blackness, Black life and Black health across space and time. Thus, thinking the ordering of these events, stories and objects from Freetown and Atlanta together helps us to understand what US public health imagines itself to be, crystallizing the visual, racial, spatial and affective forms the inequalities embedded in global health's securitized and policed landscape.