Christopher R. Conz

(Un)Cultivating the Disease of Maize: a history of pellagra in Lesotho, southern Africa, as a metric for rethinking agricultural policy

Doctorate: PhD in History at Boston University, 2017
Current Employment: Part-time Lecturer, Writing Program, Boston University
Home Mentor: Professor James McCann, Department of History/African Studies Center, Boston University
Host Mentor: Stephen Gill, Curator, Morija Museum & Archives, Morija, Lesotho

Short Biography:

Christopher Conz studied environmental and agricultural history at Boston University in Massachusetts (USA). His dissertation is titled '''Wisdom Does Not Live in One House’: Compiling Environmental Knowledge in Lesotho, Southern Africa, c. 1880-1965.” Completed under the direction of Professor James McCann, the project brings together research in Lesotho, South Africa, and the UK. The research included archival work in all three countries alongside oral history collection and ethnographic fieldwork in the mountainous Qacha’s Nek district of Lesotho. The dissertation examines environmental, agricultural, and cultural change from the time Qacha’s Nek was permanently settled until independence from Great Britain. He focuses on government interventions into agriculture and pastoralism to probe the tense process of knowledge formation.
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Project summary:

 As an IMMANA Fellow, Dr. Conz will be returning to Lesotho and South Africa for research into the social and environmental history of pellagra, a nutritional disease that has emerged in populations where refined maize meal has been the staple food. As a historian, Chris will reconstruct the various parts of the period in the 1950s and 60s where this condition flourished: the political economy of food systems, climate variability, crop choices, and food preferences. By understanding how this constellation of factors fit together in the past, the work will shed new light on agricultural and food policy in the present. This project will develop Chris’ broader interests in linking changes in the past to the present, especially concerning agriculture, environmental change, knowledge systems, and rural development.

Christopher at a sorghum field, Tsoelike, Qacha’s Nek, January 2015 (source)