Shane Doyle

Shane Doyle


Modern African History; Demographic History; Medical History; History of Sexuality; History of the Family

I did my undergraduate degree in history at Cambridge, then took a masters in African Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies before returning to Cambridge to work for a PhD on the environmental and demographic history of Bunyoro, a kingdom in western Uganda. While writing up my dissertation I became the assistant director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, where I worked from 1997 to 2000. I then held a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure until I came to Leeds in 2003.

I am Editor of the Journal of African History, and a member of the Leeds University Centre for African Studies and the Yorkshire African Studies Network


  • Convenor MA in Health, Medicine and Society

Research interests

My doctoral dissertation attempted to explain why the kingdom of Bunyoro suffered population decline until almost the end of colonial rule, in contrast to most African societies. It quickly became clear that Bunyoro was part of a larger pattern of persistent sub-fertility and high mortality which affected a range of societies in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Therefore my next project examined two other societies that also experienced demographic crises during the colonial period, Buganda and Buhaya, and one whose population grew extremely quickly from the 1920s, Ankole. Recently, my research has refocused on Kenya, where I am researching on the history of the family and fertility change, and also maternal mortality.

Current Research Projects

Maternal Mortality in East Africa (MRC-AHRC Partnership Award MR/R024502/1)

This multidisciplinary investigation into the historical and contemporary context of high maternal mortality ratios (MMRs) focuses on the region surrounding Kisumu, western Kenya. While significant reductions in maternal death were achieved in the middle decades of the twentieth century, in recent decades MMRs across sub-Saharan Africa have stagnated, in contrast to almost every other mortality measure. This project examines the sociocultural factors which affect maternal health, including risk evaluation, healthseeking decision-making, and communication. The research team also includes two anthropologists (Benson Mulemi from the Catholic University of East Africa, and Wenzel Geissler of Oslo University/University of Leeds), and specialist in linguistics (Saudah Namyalo, Makerere University) and theatre for development (Jane Plastow, University of Leeds). Our project collaborates closely with a number of medical institutions and governmental and non-governmental organisations in Kenya.

Family Reconstitution and Fertility Change in Africa (British Academy SG163211)

This project investigates how fertility patterns in East Africa have been influenced by changes in family structures and relationships. Focusing on Central Kenya, it investigates the shifts in domestic contexts which underpinned first rapid fertility increase, and then significant, but uneven, fertility decline. In order to do this the project will develop new methodologies of tracing individuals’ changing reproductive strategies over their lifecourse, through a comparison of medical and parochial records.

Previous Research Project

Before HIV: Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality in East Africa, 1900-1980

My most recent monograph, Before HIV: Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality in East Africa, 1900-1980, was published by the British Academy and Oxford University Press in 2013. It won the African Studies Association of the USA's 2014 Bethwell A. Ogot prize for the best book in East African Studies. This book examined the medical and demographic histories of three neighbouring societies in East Africa in order to explain why patterns of sexual behaviour, fertility and mortality changed so dramatically in the decades before the emergence of HIV.

The project relied on relatively innovative research methods. It used parish baptism and marriage registers to identify variations in demographic trends between ethnic groups through the techniques of family reconstitution (recreating family trees). Hospital maternity registers were analysed to identify changes over time in average parity, birthweight, neo-natal and maternal mortality, and survivorship of previous children. Medical records were analysed to show changes in disease incidence over time. Trends in sexual attitudes and behaviour were identified through a detailed media survey, and single-sex group discussions.

The most important findings of the project were that, in this region, fertility increased earlier in the colonial period than has previously been demonstrated, partly through shorter birth intervals, but that overall the rise in fertility during the mid-twentieth century was due primarily to the lengthening of women's reproductive lives. This project also demonstrated that assumptions about the uniformity and permissiveness of sexual attitudes in pre-colonial Africa have been exaggerated. Sexual behaviour in this region changed dramatically between 1860 and 1980, with the most significant developments occurring between the 1940s and 1960s, a period when the patterns of behaviour which would facilitate the rapid spread of HIV decades later took shape.

This research was funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and the ESRC.


Doyle SD (2018) Separation and Control: Environmental Interventions and The Tsetse Problem in Colonial Uganda. In: Damodaran V ed. The Forest and Environmental History of the British Empire and Commonwealth, Delhi: Primus. 

Doyle SD (2018) Disease and African Society. In: Spear T ed. Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, New York: Oxford University Press. 

Doyle SD (2016) The politics of fertility and generation in Buganda, East Africa, 1860-1980. In: Pooley S; Qureshi K eds. Parenthood between Generations: Transforming Reproductive Cultures, Fertility, Reproduction and Sexuality, 32, New York, USA: Berghahn, pp. 65-90. 

Doyle SD (2016) Social disease and social science: The intellectual influence of non-medical research on policy and practice in the Colonial Medical Service in Tanganyika and Uganda. In: Greenwood A ed. Beyond the state: the Colonial Medical Service in British Africa, Studies in Imperialism, Manchester University Press, pp. 126-126. 

Doyle SD (2015) Missionary medicine and Primary Health Care. Global Health Histories, WHO/York.

Doyle SD (2013) Uganda. Spear T ed. Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, New York: Oxford University Press.

Doyle, S.D. (2013), Before HIV: Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality in East Africa, 1900-1980 (British Academy and Oxford University Press)

Doyle, S.D. (2012), ‘Parish baptism registers, vital registration and fixing identities in Uganda’, in K. Breckenridge and S. Szreter (eds.), Registration and Recognition: Documenting the Person in World History (Oxford University Press), pp.277-98.

Doyle, S.D. (2012), ‘Sexual behavioural change in Ankole, western Uganda, c.1880–1980’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 6 (3), pp.490-506

Doyle, S.D. (2010), ‘Pre-marital sexuality in Great Lakes East Africa’, in A. Burton and H. Charton (eds.), Generations Past: Youth in East African History (Ohio University Press), pp.237-61

Doyle, S.D. (2009), ‘Immigrants and indigenes: the Lost Counties dispute and the evolution of ethnic identity in colonial Buganda’. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 3:2, pp.284-302

Doyle, S.D. (2008), ‘The child of death: personal names and parental attitudes towards mortality in Bunyoro, Western Uganda, 1900–2005’. The Journal of African History, 49 (1), pp.361-382
Doyle, S.D. (2007), ‘Bunyoro and the demography of slavery debate: fertility, kinship and assimilation’, in H. Mdard and S.D. Doyle (eds.), Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa (Ohio University Press), pp.231-251

Doyle, S.D. (2007), ‘The Cwezi-Kubandwa debate: Gender, hegemony and pre-colonial religion in Bunyoro, western Uganda’, Africa, 77 (4), pp.559-581.

Doyle, S.D. (2006), Crisis and Decline in Bunyoro: Population and Environment in Western Uganda 1860-1955 (James Currey, Oxford and Ohio University Press, Athens OH).

Doyle, S.D. (2006), 'From Kitara to the Lost Counties: Genealogy, land and legitimacy in the kingdom of Bunyoro, Western Uganda', Social Identities, 12 (4), pp.457-470.

Doyle, S.D. (2003), ‘The language of flowers: knowledge, power and ecology in precolonial Bunyoro’, History in Africa, 30, pp.107-116.

Doyle, S.D. (2000), ‘Population decline and delayed recovery in Bunyoro, 1860-1960’, Journal of African History, 41 (3), pp.429-458.

Doyle SD (2000) The population history of Buhaya. Azania35 (1), pp. 215-219.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD in African History
  • MA in African Studies
  • BA in History

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Student education

Undergraduate Modules

Africa Since 1900 (HIST2430): my research and publications cover most of the topics studied in this module: the nature of colonial rule, nationalism, ethnicity, the crisis of the post-colonial state, demographic change, famine, and the expansion of world religions

Apartheid in South Africa: Origins, Impact and Legacy (HIST3723)

Tradition and Modernity in Colonial Africa: Uganda's Kingdoms 1862-1964 (HIST3260): this module examines a number of themes which I have researched for many years, including the relationship between indigenous religion and mission Christianity, gender, disease and demography, the lost counties dispute, and ethnic politics

Postgraduate Module

Sexuality and Disease in African History (HIST5844)

Postgraduate Supervision

I can offer supervision in the following areas:

the history of Africa; ethnicity; medicine; population change; sexuality

Current and recent students

Recently graduated students include Nicola Ginsburgh, whose PhD examined Zimbabwe's white working class and is soon to start postdoctoral research at Bloemfontein, John Nott who worked on the history of malnutrition in Ghana and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Maastricht, Nick Grant, who researched on Gender and pan-Africanism and now lectures in American Studies at UEA, Vincent Hiribarren, who studied the history of borders in Modern Nigeria and currently teaches at KCL, and Will Jackson, who worked on the white underclass in colonial Kenya, and now teaches Imperial History at the University of Leeds. 

My current students are:

Lucy Taylor, 'Masculinity and violence in Northern Uganda'

Wankun Li, 'Trade, war and socialism: Chongqing's urban and rural economy (1891-1962)'

Josh Doble, 'British colonial identity in Northern Rhodesia and Kenya: Emotions, race, and violence at the end of empire, 1945-1965'

Lloyd Roberts, 'Empire and Martial Races: The Construction of Zulu Ethnicity in British Colonial South Africa'


Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Medical Humanities
  • Empires and Aftermath
  • Health Histories
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Centre for Global Health Histories

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>