Lecture #8.docx

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2 Apr 2012
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Lecture #8 Science, medicine and colonialism
Two Key points:
Science, technology and medicine important tools in colonial rule
Science, technology and medicine considered expressions of modernity; ‘superiority’ used to
justify colonialism
Over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries
Europeans came to believe they had acquired an understanding of the workings of the physical
world
And had the ability to tap its natural and human resources
Vastly superior to anything ever achieved (past or present)
Europeans explored (and colonized) Africa, the Americas, the Pacific
Encountered thousands of new animals, plants, minerals,
Wealth of new objects and information created a demand for new types of order
Classificatory zeal; “to know everything”
In many ways the ‘Enlightenment’ really the great extraction
Over the 19th and early 20th this ‘knowing everything’ is mobilized as evidentiary base by which
Europeans then claim superiority over all others
To them; justified global hegemony
So in sites like Africa
o 19th c European observers began to say that African cultures were devoid of all scientific
thinking, and possessed only the most primitive technologies
o Measure African cultures against increasingly professionalized and specialized world of
Western science
o Assert that Africans had not been responsible for a single ‘discovery’ or ‘mechanical
invention’
o Example:
The first president of the Anthropological Society in London challenged those
who argued for African equality to name one African who had distinguished
himself in any field of science
Western experts used themselves as the very rubric to measure ‘progress’ and
‘ability’
Key: erased where their own knowledge came from
Collective forgetting
Returning to colonial context in the mid 20thc
o This kind of expert discourse relied heavily on reports of travelers, settlers, and
missionaries for evidence of ‘superiority’
o Popular: “awestruck Africans” by even the simplest mechanical devices
o Clocks; batteries; magnets; photographic equipment; beer bottles; guns; compasses;
etc.
o Settlers claimed they could ‘entertain the savages’ by lighting matches, buttoning their
coats, snapping revolvers, or using mirrors to set things on fire, etc.
o General public really liked these tales
o Over the course of the 19thc and into the 20thc; different technical worlds of Europeans
(and US) and Africans were used to make biological and evolutionary claims
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