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Phoebe McDonnell

Email: and

Twitter: @PhoebeMcDonnel3

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PhD Title: Exchanges of Medical Knowledge in Canada between Native Communities and Church 

Missionaries in the Nineteenth Century 

Year of commencement: 2022 

My research examines the role of Church of England missionaries as instruments of the imposition of biopower over Indigenous communities in nineteenth century Canada whilst also highlighting the voices of First Nations individuals and communities in asserting their power over their own bodies. This study seeks to emphasise the fact that even though rampant disease outbreaks provided a mechanism for the establishment of control over Indigenous populations, we can also use heath and healthcare as a means of examining the retention of a sense of identity and tradition for First Nations groups in the face of its attempted elimination. Churches and missionary groups worked for and with the Canadian governments to spread messages of Christianity and “civilization” to rural First Nations communities across Canada, which, in turn, offers some background to the complex relationship that exists today between Native communities, the modern-day Canadian government, and Christian churches.

1st Supervisor: Dr Caitjan Gainty   

2nd Supervisor: Dr. Angel-Luke O'Donnell


Having moved to the UK from Canada when I was 15, I completed my undergraduate degree in History at the University of Cambridge, and them my MSc in History and Philosophy of Science also at the University of Cambridge. My MSc dissertation sought to examine First Nations’ challenges to state biopower in the context of smallpox vaccinations between 1867 and 1900, which informs the backdrop of the beginning of my PhD research. This background, especially through my master’s in the interdisciplinary Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, has encouraged me to seek multidisciplinary approaches to historical issues where possible, and this informs my current research. I am interested broadly in the intersection of histories of colonialism and histories of medicine, alongside international and transnational exchanges of ideas and knowledge through these colonial networks.

Grants, Awards, and Prizes:


London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) Studentship 

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