When Nancy Rose Hunt suggests that her book “joins the ferment” of colonial aggressions and uncertainties “while taking up harm and pleasure in a shrunken colonial milieu and in postcolonial historiography too” (4), an uninitiated reader might mistake Hunt’s appraisal of her project as attempting the impossible labor of largeness of scope and precision of subject. After spending time with A Nervous State:Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo (Duke University Press, 2016), it becomes obvious that Hunt’s words verge on understatement. A Nervous State weaves the medical and administrative anxieties of infertility through violences and joys of life (lives worn thin, lives rich and dense) through songs and words, as a pursuit of futures. Hunt’s archive is immense, and she places it on offer in writing both lyrical and complex. It’s no wonder that the book was awarded the 2016 Martin A. Klein Book Prize in African History from the American Historical Association. The commentaries that follow give diverse readings of Hunt’s remarkable book. We hope you enjoy.
Beyond Catastrophe: The Pasts and Futures of Kinship in Colonial Congo
Wayne State University
Tensions of Empire Redux?
Richard Keller and Emer Lucey
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Music and Infertility in the Nervous State
School of Oriental and African Studies
Enclaves and States in (Post)colonial Congo: Spatial Logics and Epidemiological Metaphors
Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER)
Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale, Collège de France
Nancy Rose Hunt
University of Florida