Dr Shane Doyle

Dr Shane Doyle

Senior Lecturer in Modern African History

+44 (0)113 34 33655

Summary: Modern African History; Imperial History; Demographic History; Medical History; Environmental History; History of Sexuality

Location: 304 Michael Sadler



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.

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. To explain this variation I identified new sources of demographic and medical data and interviewed a large number of elderly informants, as well as conducting traditional archival research. The key themes I am interested in are changes in patterns of marriage, the family, sexuality, childcare, diet and medical provision.

I am a member of the Leeds University Centre for African Studies and the Yorkshire African Studies Network

Current 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.

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 Nick Grant, who worked 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, Will Jackson, who worked on the white underclass in colonial Kenya, and is now a lecturer in Imperial History at the University of Leeds, and Aidan Stonehouse, whose PhD examined ethnicity in modern Buganda, and who has also taught in Leeds' School of History. 

My current students are:

Meremu Chikwendu, 'Negotiating the politics of homophobia in Nigeria'

Nicola Ginsburgh, 'The white working class in colonial Zimbabwe'

Claire Martin, 'Constructing woman: medical discourse, popular culture and society in Britain 1870-1930'

John Nott, 'A socio-economic analysis of malnutrition in post-colonial Ghana'

Lucy Taylor, 'Masculinity and violence in Northern Uganda'

Rosie Thornley, 'The development of Soga ethnic identity from the colonial period to the present'


Undergraduate Modules

The Anthropology and Ethnography of Africa (FOAR2010)

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 the histories of two kingdoms on which I have researched for fourteen years. Topics which relate most closely to my current research include 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)


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. Médard 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.