The psychology of rebellion: trauma and personhood in late colonial Kenya

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: History Faculty


This history of psychiatry in Africa is based upon a newly discovered photographic and medical archive from the estate of Edward Margetts, the psychiatrist in charge of Mathari Mental Hospital in colonial Kenya in the 1950s. This collection revises our understanding of colonial psychiatry at a dramatic moment at the end of empire when theories of the mind were deployed in the struggle against anti-colonial rebellion. This research opens up wider depictions of trauma, resilience and therapy allowing for a more nuanced historical comment upon the 'psychology' of Kenya throughout a period of extreme political and social unrest.


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Mahone S (2007) Psychiatry and Empire

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Mahone S (2014) 'Hat on - hat off': trauma and trepanation in Kisii, western Kenya in Journal of Eastern African Studies

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Mahone, S. (2007) Psychiatry and Empire

Title An Exhibition of the Margetts Collection 
Description I am in discussion with the new Director of the History of Science Museum in Oxford to see if we might mount an exhibition of photographs of either trepanation in modern Kenya or a broader selection on 'Healing'. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact This event is only in the planning stages. 
Description Trauma and Personhood in Late Colonial Kenya has succeeded in the collection and cataloguing of a unique photographic, film, and documents archive from the Canadian psychiatrist Edward Lambert Margetts. This material has illuminated an extremely rich and diverse set of stories about from 1950s Kenya during the tumultuous Mau Mau war and the decline of British rule.
Exploitation Route The Margetts Collection continues to prompt spin-off projects such as the preservation of important medical documents and records from colonial Kenya, as well as a cache of 16mm films recording neurological conditions and healing practices from the 1950s. The photographs are thematic and cover a range of subjects including; psychiatric practice, Kenyan healers, shrines, dances, and religious rituals.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The PI and post-doctoral research fellow have digitized and catalogued the photographic collection, secured a small grant to preserve important documents in Kenya, and collected and digitized original 16mm films from the 1950s. We have given numerous research papers on a diverse range of subjects and we are publishing these various strands of the research project now.
First Year Of Impact 2006
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title The Margetts Collection 
Description This is a relational database of the photographic materials of the Edward Margetts Collection (which also includes articles, books, personal correspondence, medical and administrative records). As recently as Summer 2014, further materials were uncovered in the form of donated 16 mm films taken by Dr Margetts. These have been transferred to MP3 files and will also be catalogued. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Individual photographs have been made available for publication or in museum exhibits with permission. 
Description British Institute in Eastern Africa. 
Organisation British Institute in Eastern Africa
Country Kenya 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution While in Kenya, we worked closely with the British Institute in Eastern Africa. We were able to establish a training regime for interns from the UK and Kenya who worked with us on the collection and preservation of records found primarily at Mathari Mental Hospital in Nairobi. In some cases, interns also worked in the Kenya National Archives or in field work with the PI and Postdoctoral Fellow. We also presented our work to workshops and conferences of the BIEA.
Collaborator Contribution The BIEA included our project in their intern training scheme. They also provided a library and office support and vehicles for fieldwork.
Impact With supplementary funds from a small grant sought elsewhere, we were able to assist Mathari Hospital with the preservation of colonial era records (The Mathari Hospital Historical Records Project).
Start Year 2006
Description Kenya National Museum. 
Organisation National Museums of Kenya
Department Cultural Heritage Department
Country Kenya 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution During our fieldwork, we visited with museum staff and discussed the possibility of mounting an exhibit of the Margetts photographs. As a result of significant high-level staff turnover, this did not come to pass. However, it would remain a possibility for the future.
Collaborator Contribution The museum archives provided assistance with basic archival research.
Impact no specific outputs at this time
Start Year 2006
Description Mathari Hospital 
Organisation Mathari Mission Hospital
Country Kenya 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution Mathari Mental Hospital, founded in 1910, is the primary subject of the Margetts Collection and research. The hospital was kept informed about the progress of the research and the nature of the materials in the Collection.
Collaborator Contribution Mathari Hospital was a gracious host as understanding the work and environment of the historic hospital was critical to the research. High level staff were available for interview or informal discussions.
Impact A spin-off project (using supplementary funds from a small British Academy grant) was put into place to preserve and catalogue colonial era records which were found in deteriorating condition onsite. These records remain the property of the hospital. (Mathari Hospital Historical Records Project)
Description The Edward Margetts Collection 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have completed the catalogue and photographic database for this collection (photographs and negatives), but as recently as Summer 2014 new materials in the form of 16mm films have come into possession of the Principal Investigator. These have been transferred to MP3 files, but have not yet been entered into the database. We have made individual photographs available to publications and to a museum exhibit and catalogue (The Wellcome Collection, London) with permission and attribution.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Oxford, and in particular, the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, the African Studies Centre, and the Pitt Rivers Museum have provided ongoing support and specialist advice.
Impact The database is the primary outcome, but photographs from this collection have been used in book (G. Klantschnig, Carrier, N. and Ambler C., Drugs in Africa: Histories and Ethnographies of Use, Trade and Control, Palgrave (2014); journals (Journal of Eastern African Studies, and others pending) and in a museum catalogue and exhibit (The Wellcome Collection).
Start Year 2006
Description The Kenya Psychiatric Association 
Organisation Kenya Psychiatry Association
Country Kenya 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This was an informal collaboration which resulted in extremely useful access to psychiatrists and other mental health workers. Their insights were invaluable in gaining a greater understanding of the significance of some of the material. The PI also presented findings to 95 African psychiatrists at a meeting of the World Psychiatric Association in Nairobi.
Collaborator Contribution Psychiatrists were available for interview, informal discussion and feedback, and this was invaluable as the research progressed.
Impact not applicable
Start Year 2006