Books Features

Book Forum –– Nancy Rose Hunt’s A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo

This article is part of the following series:



When Nancy Rose Hunt suggests that her book “joins the ferment” of colonial aggressions and uncertainties “while taking up harm and pleasure in a shrunken colonial milieu and in postcolonial historiography too” (4), an uninitiated reader might mistake Hunt’s appraisal of her project as attempting the impossible labor of largeness of scope and precision of subject. After spending time with A Nervous State:Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo (Duke University Press, 2016), it becomes obvious that Hunt’s words verge on understatement. A Nervous State weaves the medical and administrative anxieties of infertility through violences and joys of life (lives worn thin, lives rich and dense) through songs and words, as a pursuit of futures.  Hunt’s archive is immense, and she places it on offer in writing both lyrical and complex. It’s no wonder that the book was awarded the 2016 Martin A. Klein Book Prize in African History from the American Historical Association. The commentaries that follow give diverse readings of Hunt’s remarkable book. We hope you enjoy.


Beyond Catastrophe: The Pasts and Futures of Kinship in Colonial Congo
Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski
Wayne State University

Tensions of Empire Redux?
Richard Keller and Emer Lucey
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Music and Infertility in the Nervous State
Joe Trapido
School of Oriental and African Studies

Enclaves and States in (Post)colonial Congo: Spatial Logics and Epidemiological Metaphors
Joshua Walker
Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER)

Scholarly Synaesthesia
Lys Alcayna-Stevens
Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale, Collège de France


A Reply

Nancy Rose Hunt
University of Florida


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