The Great Irish Famine had a devastating impact on the population of Ireland, particularly the poor and destitute, who despite their suffering were treated with disdain and contempt. One million people died, and hundreds of thousands were forced to seek relief in the workhouse. The skeletal remains of those who died give testimony to their excruciating hardship and toil, but also of resistance and communal identity. Dr Jonny Geber tells the stories of these misunderstood communities, and charts how bioarchaeology has helped to shed light on their lives from their perspective, to uncover the truth about their history.
During the 14th–16th centuries, West Africa was a land of plenty with lots of nutritious foods able to sustain a large population. These foods were studied and recorded by travellers of the period, including many plants and animals deemed curative (though their pharmaceutical potential was seemingly forgotten in records from later colonial settlers). In short, this was not a land of famine at all. Today many West African countries are amongst the poorest in the world, life expectancy is low, and food security is a major concern. Dr Iona McCleery considers the combined impact of colonialism, the slave trade, and climate change on health and nutrition in West Africa from the 17th century onwards.
Dr Jonny Geber is senior lecturer in human osteoarchaeology at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, with a research focus on the skeleton.
Dr Iona McCleery specialises in the history of medicine, food and healing miracles, especially for Portugal and its early empire in West Africa and the Atlantic islands; she has worked at the University of Leeds since 2007.