Sydney historian wins international award

6 May 2010

The American Association for the History of Medicine has awarded University of Sydney historian, Professor Warwick Anderson, the prestigious 2010 William H Welch Medal for his book The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen.

Professor Anderson, who holds an appointment as Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of History and the Center for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, has already been awarded the NSW Premier's General History Prize for The Collectors of Lost Souls.

The William H Welch Award is named in honour of a major American figure in the history of medicine and public health, and is awarded to authors of a book of outstanding scholarly merit in the field of medical history. It is a sought-after honour previously awarded to historians from exclusive universities internationally including Harvard, Cambridge and Princeton, and confirms Sydney's reputation as world-class.

The Collectors of Lost Souls tells the story of kuru, a disease which caused muscle weakness, uncontrollable tremors, then loss of all coordination and ultimately death. At the centre of the story is the brilliant but troubled American doctor D Carleton Gajdusek, who established that the Fore tradition of eating their loved ones after death was the means by which the disease carried from one person to another.

Professor Anderson has described his book as "a story a writer has a chance to tell once in a lifetime if you are lucky" about an "extraordinary mysterious killer disease, first contact in the highlands of New Guinea in the 1950s and 1960s, a protagonist who could have stepped out of a tale by Melville or Conrad, sorcery accusations, cannibalism, two Nobel Prizes, infectious proteins, mad cow, and accusations of sexual molestation."

Media inquiries: Stephanie Whitelock, 9351 2261, 0401 711 361,