Leishmaniasis has a long history dating back as far as the first century AD. As early as this period, pre-Incan pottery from Ecuador and Peru displayed depictions of skin lesions and facial deformities that are typical of cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis. Incan text from the 15th and 16th century and accounts from Spanish conquistadors noted the presence of skin lesions on agricultural workers returning from the Andes. These ulcers resembled leprosy lesions and were labeled, “white leprosy,” “Andean sickness,” or “valley sickness.” In Africa and India , reports in the mid-18 th century describe the disease now known as visceral leishmaniasis, as “kal-azar” or “black fever.” In 1756, Alexander Russell made an important advance in the discovery of Leishmaniasis after examining a Turkish patient. According to Russell, "After it is cicatrised, it leaves an ugly scar, which remains through life, and for many months has a livid colour. When they are not irritated, they seldom give much pain." Russell called this disease, "Aleppo boil."
The disease became known as Leishmaniasis after William Leishman, a Glasgwegian doctor seving with the British Army in India , developed one of the earliest stains of Leishmania in 1901. In Dum Dum, a town near Calcutta , Leishman discovered ovoid bodies in the spleen of a British soldier who was experiencing bouts of fever, anemia, muscular atrophy and swelling of the spleen. Leishman described this illness as “dum dum fever” and published his findings in 1903. Charles Donovan also recognized these symptoms in other kal-azar patients and published his discovery a few weeks after Leishman. After examining the parasite using Leishman's stain, these amastigotes were known as Leishman-Donovan bodies and officially, this species became known as, L. Donovani. By linking this protozoan with kal-azar, Leishman and Donovan discovered the genus, Leishmanias.