ENC History professor Dr. William McCoy successfully defended his doctoral thesis at Boston University on Friday, Feb. 6.
The subject of his thesis is leprosy in 20th century Swaziland, Africa. His interest in this topic was fueled by his childhood, as McCoy spent the majority of his life in Swaziland.
His father—a medical doctor—worked at The Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital that specialized in treating leprosy patients. His father primarily supervised the care of these afflicted patients, and this had a lasting impact on McCoy.
“I remember going on to those hospital wards and being aware of this work that my dad was doing, and also being at least vaguely aware that this [disease] had a sort of biblical connotation,” McCoy said. “You know, images of people covered up in rags and having lost their fingers.”
McCoy began the research for the 300-page dissertation in 2010, and he traveled back and forth to Africa during the summers of 2011 to 2014. Last December, he started the writing process, eventually defending his thesis, “Healing the Leper? Mission Christianity, Medicine, and Social Dependency in 20th Century Swaziland,” successfully before a private board at Boston University less than two weeks ago. The thesis covered a micro-historical study on the debilitating medical disease of leprosy.
“I’m trying to understand how, over the course of the 20th century, people related to the illness, for whom is this illness important, for whom is it inconsequential, and how do people relate to one another when it comes to this disease,” McCoy said.
McCoy began studying for his graduate work in 2002 through an African History program at Boston University, aiming for his Master’s. Most of his interest in this subject stemmed from his childhood background, having previous knowledge because he grew up as an American child in Swaziland.
As he matured, he began looking to find some sort of interaction between the Western world and the far-removed cultural worldviews of African peoples. This fascination with “trying to understand those intersections” followed him throughout the entirety of his career as a graduate student.
The day after defending his thesis, McCoy physically began to feel off and discovered that he was suffering from a case of appendicitis. In a stroke of luck, two snow days followed the surgery, giving the professor some time to recover before classes began again.
“I was grateful, in that case, that we got two days of classes cancelled,” McCoy said.
Hired in 2005 to work at ENC as part-time faculty, McCoy served as the primary adjunct for an African history course. Later, he took on teaching what was then dubbed “Western Heritage,” now the general education course “West in the World.” In 2009, he became a member of the full-time faculty. As a PhD holder and with a reputation as a quality professor, ENC may see McCoy spreading knowledge—especially about Africa—on its campus for quite a few years to come.