Sarah Ehlers

Contact Details

EHLERS SarahSarah Ehlers
Research Associate, Centre for Medical Humanities

Tel: 0116 229 7607

Room 204
7 Salisbury Road


I studied modern history, cultural and political sciences in Zurich, Aix en Provence and mostly Berlin, where I graduated with distinction from Humboldt University and in the course of my doctoral research, have worked in British, French, Swiss and German archives.

I was awarded several prizes and scholarships, including the Johann-Gustav-Droysen-Preis for my thesis, a doctoral fellowship of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, and doctoral stipends at the German Historical Institutes Paris and London as well as at the Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Research Interests

My research interests lie in the field of modern European history and its global entanglements. I broadly explore intersections between history of colonialism, history of Western Europe, history of science and medicine and gender history, but with special attention to scientific knowledge production associated with colonial practices of governance and health in sub-Saharan Africa and the portability of ideas and practices within and across empires. My dissertation examines how the colonial powers dealt with sleeping sickness epidemics in tropical Africa in the first half of the 20th century. Spreading rapidly and causing escalating death tolls, sleeping sickness posed a key problem for colonial authorities. At the same time, the disease constituted a fascinating topic of research for tropical physicians and scientists. I explore scientific understandings of the disease, their colonial embeddedness and how the colonial experiences shaped the ways tropical medicine developed in Europe. I am also interested in entanglements between medical concerns and colonial planning restructuring the colonial landscape and targeting the affected indigenous population. Tracing medical knowledge production both in Europe and Africa, I argue that knowledge and practices not only circulated between metropole and colony but also between different colonial territories, between Empires and in international networks.


  • S. Ehlers, “Afrikanische und europäische Körper: Kolonialärzte und die Schlafkrankheit 1900-1914”, in Europabilder im 20. Jahrhundert. Entstehung an der Peripherie edited by Frank Bösch et al. (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012): 79-95.
  • S. Ehlers, “Europeanising Impacts from the Colonies: European Campaigns against Sleeping Sickness 1900-1914”, in Europeanisation in the 20th Century: the Historical Lens edited by Matthieu Osmont et al. (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2012): 111-126.
  • S. Ehlers, Review of “Owen White et al. (eds.), In God's Empire. French Missionaries and the Modern World, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)”, in: Francia-Recensio 2014/1 | 19./20. Jahrhundert - Histoire contemporaine, 21.03.2014.
  • S. Ehlers, Review of “Martin Thomas (ed.), The French Colonial Mind. Volume 1: Mental Maps of Empire and Colonial Encounters (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011); Martin Thomas (ed.), The French Colonial Mind. Volume 2: Violence, Military Encounters, and Colonialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011)”, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 18.10.2013. <>
  • S. Ehlers, Review of “Anne Digby et al. (eds.): Crossing Colonial Historiographies. Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010)“, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 16.03.2012. <>

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