"To Study What Is Ours": Scientific and Political Representations of Africa in the Lisbon Zoological Museum, 1862-1881

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Abstract Summary
Between 1862 and 1881, the director of the Zoological Section of the Museu Nacional de Lisboa, José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823-1907), launched and consolidated a research program to study national fauna supported by the addition of new collections. The characteristic fauna of Portuguese land and seas should no longer be unknown in the rest of Europe neither misrepresented in the existing national collections. The scope of the national fauna considered metropolitan territories as well as imperial possessions and, according to Bocage, all of these geographical regions should be studied by “our own” instead of foreign naturalists and explorers. Lacking the resources of larger museums, Bocage leaned on the individual participation of collaborators both at home and distributed along the many distant outposts of the Portuguese empire. The nationalistic tone set by Bocage gradually yielded results and the work with the new collections allowed for an active new museum which in turn enabled the publication of tens of new species, with a particular emphasis on Angolan vertebrate fauna. The descriptive taxonomic work in the Lisbon museum relied on local information, indigenous names, and specimens gathered from Portuguese colonial officials and collectors on the field. This paper considers this particular form of taxonomic and zoogeographical knowledge as a political field that substantiated the national rhetoric of appropriation and justification in the construction of the Portuguese African empire.
Abstract ID :
HSS142
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science
Chronological Classification :
19th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
Natural History Collections, Museum Studies, Material Culture, Scientific Expeditions in Africa, Science in the Portuguese Empire