Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950
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Tropical Africa was one of the last regions of the world to experience formal European colonialism, a process that coincided with the advent of a range of new scientific specialties and research methods. Africa as a Living Laboratory is a far-reaching study of the thorny relationship between imperialism and the role of scientific expertise—environmental, medical, racial, and anthropological—in the colonization of British Africa.
A key source for Helen Tilley’s analysis is the African Research Survey, a project undertaken in the 1930s to explore how modern science was being applied to African problems. This project both embraced and recommended an interdisciplinary approach to research on Africa that, Tilley argues, underscored the heterogeneity of African environments and the interrelations among the problems being studied. While the aim of British colonialists was unquestionably to transform and modernize Africa, their efforts, Tilley contends, were often unexpectedly subverted by scientific concerns with the local and vernacular. Meticulously researched and gracefully argued, Africa as a Living Laboratory transforms our understanding of imperial history, colonial development, and the role science played in both.
student at UC–Berkeley and Oxford University I would like to thank my two PhD supervisors, William Beinart and Nancy Leys Stepan, who were unfailingly supportive and thoughtful. For their feedback and intellectual exchanges I would also like to thank Megan Vaughan, David Hollinger, Carolyn Merchant, Ravi Rajan, Richard Drayton, Mark Harrison, Robert xii / Acknowledgments Fox, John Darwin, Raufu Mustafa, Anthony Kirk-Greene, Cécile Fabre, Kakoli Ghosh, Damon Salesa, Zoë Laidlaw, Melanie Newton,
welcome or benign, but African states have been forced to confront them repeatedly since achieving political independence. Various regions within Africa still provide many counterexamples to ostensibly modern norms, whether in the context of land use, intellectual property, therapeutic pluralism, or even law and politics, to give but a few examples.89 Many of the philosophical struggles that began during the colonial era and helped to bring about the empire’s demise remain salient to this day.
fragile as the Egyptian Khédive, the Ottoman Empire, and France and Britain contended for supremacy, and that the Portuguese and the British largely controlled the southern coasts. The route that remained open to multinational exploration was the east–west path Cameron had recently traversed. A map produced by the RGS’s African Exploration Fund a few months later showed just how few expeditions had traversed the region surrounding the Congo River (see plate 1). To determine the functions and
“ecological methods,” including the Imperial Forestry Institute, where he met Bourne, Kew Gardens, where he worked brieﬂy with Sir Arthur Hill, and several of the Imperial Agricultural Bureaus. He completed his training in South Africa, spending two months with a ﬁeld study under I. Pole Evans in Pretoria and then another month meeting with research ofﬁcers responsible for botany, ecology, and agriculture. By the time he arrived in Northern Rhodesia in December 1931, so much time had passed that
capable of export.”137 During their safaris, Trapnell and Clothier traversed an average of eighteen miles each day, almost always on foot, which was roughly the distance between villages, and employed one to two dozen porters and at least one translator.138 Typically, in each village they met with the elders and “asked a series of routine questions, [including] methods of land selection, processes of clearing land, planting, duration of cultivation, rest periods.”139 They supplemented their ﬁeld