Colonial Science in the German Empire
This working group discusses the practice and politics of science within the German colonial empire. We take as our focus the years in which Germany was a colonial power, 1884-1919, while also looking back to the context of mid-nineteenth century trade, mission and exploration, and to neocolonial offshoots after 1919 such as the boom in "Afrikawissenschaft" under Nazism. We will question how German scientists and organizations erased, absorbed, or constructed Indigenous knowledge as a counterpoint to their own work; how their practices interacted with those of other European empires; and how colonial practices shaped knowledge production in major German metropoles. The group is geared particularly towards early-career scholars, and it should also address fundamental methodological issues and stakes of studying "science" in the German colonial context: how do we write colonial history as history of science and vice versa? How can these histories adequately take into account the perspectives and knowledge practices of the colonized? How do we navigate the colonial legacies in science in our own time? How does (neo)colonial science play out today?
The working group is intended to open new research questions, disseminate resources, build networks and foster scholarship. Our monthly virtual meetings will alternate between reading sessions and workshops. Each reading session will focus on the colonial entanglements of a different scientific field, including geography, medicine, biology, anthropology, ethnology, linguistics and archaeology. Such a wide range of topics precludes any of the conveners from claiming expertise in all of them. One of the aims of this group is therefore to generate conversations between fields that would otherwise be shut off from each other; to this end we will solicit expert moderators from established as well as junior peers to introduce and/or lead discussions. The workshop sessions will be devoted to research presentations by up to two group participants per session, and we welcome brief proposals from participants throughout the year.
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Monday, January 25, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EST
Introduction: Scientific Knowledge and German Colonialism
- Helen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory. Empire, Development and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950 (University of Chicago, 2011), Introduction, 1-30.
- *Stephan Besser, “Die Organisation des kolonialen Wissens. 10. Oktober 1902: In Berlin tagt der erste Deutsche Kolonialkongreß” in Mit Deutschland um die Welt: Eine Kulturgeschichte des Fremden in der Kolonialzeit, ed. Alexander Honold and Klaus R. Scherpe (Metzler, 2004), 271-78.
*For those who do not read German, we have provided a (quite serviceable) machine translation of Stephan Besser's text "The Organization of Colonial Knowledge".
Monday, February 22, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EST
Monday, March 22, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EDT
Monday, April 26, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EDT
Monday, May 24, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EDT
Edna Bonhomme is a historian of science and writer who holds a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Princeton University and a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. The core of her work interrogates contagion, epidemics, and toxicity through decolonial practices and African diaspora worldmaking. She is currently based in Berlin, Germany.
Alice Christensen teaches in German Studies at the University of Reading (AY 2020/21). She was previously a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia. She is researching various aspects of the institutionalization of 'tropical medicine' in Germany in the years around 1900. She is also working on a book about the history of thinking about temperature in German literature, philosophy, and scientific periodicals between 1830 and 1930.
Matthew Vollgraff is a Research Associate at the Warburg Institute, University of London, where he is a member of the "Bilderfahrzeuge" Project. His current research deals with the relationship between ethnographic museums, colonial anthropology and the scientific study of art in the late Wilhelmine Empire.