Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science Drift 25, Rm. 302 Organized Session
26 Jul 2019 09:00 AM - 11:45 AM(Europe/Amsterdam)
20190726T0900 20190726T1145 Europe/Amsterdam Scientific Cultures in Africa

Science in Africa has often been perceived as a tool of empire, a force of 'epistemicide', or as diametrically opposed to African knowledge. Recently, historians of science have adopted a more nuanced view which, while sensitive to colonial hierarchies, emphasises circulation, appropriation, and translation of knowledge between the West and Africa. This panel brings together such trends by examining scientific cultures in twentieth-century south and east Africa. Panellists examine how African knowledge shaped sleeping-sickness research and tropical medicine in the Lake Victoria region; how Zulu knowledge was mobilised as evidence for and against animal-trypanosomiasis control strategies in Zululand; how medical cartographers studying Burkitt's lymphoma configured Uganda as a centre for medical research; how the construction of Standard Swahili, intended as a tool of colonial power, became the language of Tanganyikan nationalism; and how educational computer technologies in Nairobi schools offered a path to economic growth, yet perpetuated colonial hierarchies. Our papers show that Africans not only served as sources of field data for scientists, but often provided foundations for scientific theories. Likewise, the 'tools of empire' were sometimes turned upon their creators: scientific projects had unintended consequences and exposed the limits of colonial dominion. This would have lasting impacts after decolonisation, where scientific institutions were transformed into centres of national development. Together, these papers attempt a different reading of scientific cultures in Africa, showing how science could both oppress and empower, and how local and foreign forms of knowledge-making interacted and influenced one another.

Organized by Jules Skotnes-Brown

Drift 25, Rm. 302 History of Science Society 2019 meeting@hssonline.org

Science in Africa has often been perceived as a tool of empire, a force of 'epistemicide', or as diametrically opposed to African knowledge. Recently, historians of science have adopted a more nuanced view which, while sensitive to colonial hierarchies, emphasises circulation, appropriation, and translation of knowledge between the West and Africa. This panel brings together such trends by examining scientific cultures in twentieth-century south and east Africa. Panellists examine how African knowledge shaped sleeping-sickness research and tropical medicine in the Lake Victoria region; how Zulu knowledge was mobilised as evidence for and against animal-trypanosomiasis control strategies in Zululand; how medical cartographers studying Burkitt's lymphoma configured Uganda as a centre for medical research; how the construction of Standard Swahili, intended as a tool of colonial power, became the language of Tanganyikan nationalism; and how educational computer technologies in Nairobi schools offered a path to economic growth, yet perpetuated colonial hierarchies. Our papers show that Africans not only served as sources of field data for scientists, but often provided foundations for scientific theories. Likewise, the 'tools of empire' were sometimes turned upon their creators: scientific projects had unintended consequences and exposed the limits of colonial dominion. This would have lasting impacts after decolonisation, where scientific institutions were transformed into centres of national development. Together, these papers attempt a different reading of scientific cultures in Africa, showing how science could both oppress and empower, and how local and foreign forms of knowledge-making interacted and influenced one another.

Organized by Jules Skotnes-Brown

Colonial Science and Local Knowledge: Environmental Sleeping Sickness Control in East Africa, 1900-1920View Abstract
Organized Session 09:00 AM - 09:30 AM (Europe/Amsterdam) 2019/07/26 07:00:00 UTC - 2019/07/26 07:30:00 UTC
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.
Presenters
SE
Sarah Ehlers
Technical University Of Munich
Starving Flies, Exterminating Animals: The Game-Nagana Link, the Great Game Drive, and the Dynamism of ‘Zulu Knowledge’, ca. 1890s-1920sView Abstract
Organized Session 09:30 AM - 10:00 AM (Europe/Amsterdam) 2019/07/26 07:30:00 UTC - 2019/07/26 08:00:00 UTC
In the 1890s, the British sought to open the Colony of Zululand to European settlement. The country, characterised by abundant green pastures, was a paradise for cattle, but had been plagued by a livestock disease that the Zulu called uNakane (Anglicised as nagana). Its cause, Zulu farmers insisted, was the presence of legally-protected big-game. David Bruce, a Scottish surgeon-major was commissioned to investigate the disease. His revelations would stimulate a thirty-year controversy into the “game-nagana link” – whether big-game were the source of the disease, and whether exterminating them would eradicate nagana. In 1920, this culminated in a field-experiment dubbed “The Great Game Drive”, in which two-thousand settlers and six-hundred Zulu attempted to exterminate all wildlife south of the Umfolozi Game Reserve. This ‘experiment’ and its reception shaped nagana science in Zululand and entangled the fate of the fauna in a web of class and race conflicts. The game-nagana controversy complicates ideas about the relationship between African knowledge and the sciences as being one of appropriation and erasure. ‘Zulu knowledge’ was a dynamic construct: some settler scientists mobilised it as a form of ancient wisdom, while others took it as a touchstone of ‘primitivity’ and used it to challenge their opponents. In the wake of the Great Game Drive, it lost its intellectual currency as the purview of science narrowed. The Umfolozi Game Reserve was transformed into a field laboratory in which big-game extermination became yoked to ‘African primitivity’, while bionomics and bacteriology became the ‘official’ means of nagana control.
Presenters Jules Skotnes-Brown
University Of Cambridge
Medical Mapping, Burkitt's Lymphoma, and the East African Virus Research Institute, 1962-1979View Abstract
Organized Session 10:15 AM - 10:45 AM (Europe/Amsterdam) 2019/07/26 08:15:00 UTC - 2019/07/26 08:45:00 UTC
The discovery of Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL), a childhood cancer that appeared to be limited to particular parts of Africa and caused by a virus, attracted a range of researchers with a stake in the field of cancer viruses to Uganda. Between 1962 and 1979, the East African Virus Research Institute (EAVRI), a laboratory founded in Entebbe in 1936, conducted a series of investigations into the etiology of the lymphoma. This research took place in a period of intense change at the Institute and in Uganda in general, coinciding with the advent of national independence, the first administration of a Ugandan president, and the rise and fall of Idi Amin. These changes cast uncertainty onto the future of the EAVRI. Drawing on oral histories, archives, and published material, this paper examines the cartographic practices of the EAVRI’s research on BL, both in the preliminary exploratory stage and in the later cohort study. These investigations offer a window into the use of medical maps to configure independent Uganda as a valuable site of medical research and to tease out the relationship between cancer, a putative infectious agent, and the natural and social environment. This story sheds light on the negotiation of the roles of EAVRI’s African and expatriate researchers, international visiting scientists, the study populations in West Nile, Uganda, missionaries, government officials, and a wide array of intermediaries. It also highlights the ways that scientists in Uganda invested in strategies that would facilitate new research programs in the post-colonial period.
Presenters
JC
Julia Cummiskey
University Of Tennessee-Chattanooga
A Standardized Vernacular or a Vernacular Standard? The Position of Swahili in the Early Twentieth CenturyView Abstract
Organized Session 10:45 AM - 11:15 AM (Europe/Amsterdam) 2019/07/26 08:45:00 UTC - 2019/07/26 09:15:00 UTC
This paper explores a 1925 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, during which the British colonial administrations of eastern Africa agreed upon the dialectical basis for Standard Swahili. If examined from the standpoint of the 1920s, this decision seems a typical story of imperial appropriation and imposition, a moment in which the colonizer decided what language was ‘best’ for the colonized. By placing this decision in the context of the longer social and intellectual history of Standard Swahili, however, we can see that it is just one pivot of many between ‘vernacular’ and ‘official’ knowledge production—a process that had taken place over the course of many decades, and that would continue for many decades to come. Building upon the idea of ‘linguistic ecosystems,’ the paper brings to the fore the host of interlocutors involved in the lead-up to 1925 and its reverberations across the region. Exploring this single shift between 'vernacular’ and 'official’ knowledge production sets us up to understand how quickly proponents of the latter (in this case, the British colonial regime) lost control of the process. Over the course of just two decades, Standard Swahili, once a tool of colonial rule, became the language of Tanganyikan nationalism and independence. Even more importantly, the paper demonstrates how ‘vernacular’ and ‘official’ knowledge production often work in tandem, arguing that they can be mutually constitutive.
Presenters
MR
Morgan Robinson
Mississippi State University
A Language for National Development: The Computer Literacy Program at Starehe Boy’s Centre and School, 1980-1990View Abstract
Organized Session 11:15 AM - 11:45 AM (Europe/Amsterdam) 2019/07/26 09:15:00 UTC - 2019/07/26 09:45:00 UTC
In 1980, Starehe School in Nairobi became the first Kenyan second-level institution to introduce computer education. From a small pilot-scheme reliant on the University of Nairobi’s mainframe computer, Starehe’s program expanded rapidly. Student enthusiasm and an ambitious school leadership convinced international donors to provide mini-computers and construct a computer laboratory. Starehe soon became Kenya’s strongest advocate for the adoption of computer technology, with visits from the President, Daniel Arap-Moi, and local and international business and NGO leaders. Indeed, Kenya’s present status as a technology hub in east Africa has often been attributed to Starehe’s early experiment in promoting computer literacy. With Starehe’s computer education program as its central focus, this paper sheds light on three interlinked aspects of the adoption of technology in Kenyan history. Firstly, at the level of the school, it explores the significance of technology education as a form of pedagogy, building on work in gender and sexuality studies that considers how computer environments have been constructed as masculine spaces. Secondly, it considers the role of the school in shaping, and responding to, national debates around technology policy in a Kenya (at least at the government level) that was initially reluctant to see the widespread adoption of computer technology. And finally, in a school that was designed to promote national development, it explores how computer literacy was cast as a means to rapid growth in an era of economic stagnation.
Presenters
RT
Ray Thornton
PhD Student, Princeton University
Technical University of Munich
University of Cambridge
University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
Mississippi State University
PhD Student, Princeton University
Mississippi State University
No attendee has checked-in to this session!
Program Navigator