Colonial Science and Local Knowledge: Environmental Sleeping Sickness Control in East Africa, 1900-1920

This abstract has open access
Abstract Summary
This paper addresses the transnational history of British, German, and Belgian colonial environmental action to combat sleeping sickness in East Africa. Following the discovery that vector-borne diseases and tropical environments were highly interrelated phenomena, colonial scientists and doctors developed disease control schemes that targeted not only pathogens and parasites but also their vectors, their habitats and their animal reservoirs. This new type of environmental disease control relied heavily on the local population and on their knowledge of their natural surroundings. This paper explores the scientific pursuit of this knowledge: what kind of data was collected, which categories were applied? How was this process of understanding and conceptualizing nature embedded in colonial rule? In which ways was scientific inquiry dependent on local knowledge? Secondly, this paper deals with the mechanisms through which local environmental knowledge attained the status of evidence, and with shifting concepts of expertise in colonial contexts. How did European scientists interact with local healing cultures and indigenous knowledge? How did they present their findings to different audiences (scientific circles in Europe, colonial administration, local elites and inhabitants of infected areas)? In which ways did new forms of indigenous participation in science transform data acquisition and medical approaches in tropical medicine? Although colonial experts only rarely acknowledged indigenous knowledge in their publications, local expertise and agency mattered in many ways. Colonial health campaigns thus offer an exemplary domain of environmental interventionism for exploring the connections between Western and colonial sciences, local knowledge and the history of colonialism.
Abstract ID :
HSS459
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
20th century, early
Self-Designated Keywords :
sleeping sickness, trypanosomiasis, Lake Victoria, tropical medicine, tsetse-fly, indigenous knowledge

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