Shared Histories of Eco-Knowledge: Imperial Botany as a Co-Shaped Endeavour, 1880s to 1914


Imperialism and Western scientific advancement are considered to have gone hand in hand. The specific impact of colonized subjects on imperial knowledge production, however, has rarely been examined. The study addresses an empirical gap by showing that colonized subjects in former German East Africa and the Dutch East Indies from the 1880s to 1914 were involved in shaping European scientific fact-making, co-producing varieties of what I call eco-knowledge. The empirical focus lies on an emerging network of Dutch and German botanists at their research sites in German East Africa and the Dutch East Indies as well as their local interlocutors and forced labourers. T o classify and taxonomize discovered materials, planters and researchers relied on the local population’s explanations and on the observation of how Africans and Indonesians put the flora to use. In turn, parts of the local population took up introduced planting and harvesting practices which deepened economic inequality and incited conflict. The following research questions guide the project: What precolonial knowledge on soil, seeds and plants existed in colonial German East Africa and the Dutch Indies? How did the exchange between local and Western knowledge produce new insights that the European planters and researchers then labelled as scientific? How did European scientific motives and economic interests fuel one another, and how did the introduction of Western farming techniques impact local economic practices? In answering these questions, the project contributes to debates in colonial and global history, the history of science and knowledge as well as economic history.

Bearbeiterin: Alina Marktanner