Science and its Others: Histories of Ethno-Science

This group studies the changing relationship between scientific knowledge and what is variously called local, ‘indigenous’ or ‘native’ knowledges. Our starting point is the eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked naturalists to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany, ethnography and other strands of nineteenth-century natural history relying on systematic surveys of national and colonial territories, and the eventual consolidation of ethno-disciplines in the twentieth century. We are interested in the putative shifts towards increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of ‘traditional’ knowledge in political and scientific discourses. Fundamental questions we want to address include: under which historical and epistemological conditions did indigenous forms of knowledge undergo a revaluation by western scientists – from the colonial and derogative notion of ‘savage’ to what is now called ‘ethnoscience’? What forms of credit and intellectual property organized the intersection of indigenous and scientific knowledge? What consequences, if any, did these intersections have for the demarcation between science and non-science? And what impact, in turn, did the exposure to ‘science’ have on the self-understanding and identity of local knowledge communities?

Harriet Mercer (hjm51@cam.ac.uk)

Harriet Mercer is a Research Associate on the Making Climate History project, where she is helping to reveal the stories of the diverse range of actors involved in producing climate knowledge over the last 200 years. She has a particular interest in the changing ways atmospheric data has been collected, analysed, and represented over time. In her most recent publication, she examined the impact of gender on the production of climate knowledge in the nineteenth century.

Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3@cam.ac.uk)

Staffan Müller-Wille is University Lecturer in the History of Life, Human and Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. His research covers the history of the life sciences from the early modern period to the early twentieth century, with a focus on the history of natural history, anthropology, and genetics. Among recent publications is a book co-authored with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger on The Gene: From Genetics to Postgenomics (2018) and two co-edited collections on Human Heredity in the Twentieth Century (2013) and Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850–1930 (2016).

Raphael Uchôa (ru224@cam.ac.uk)

Raphael Uchôa is the Adrian Research Fellow at Darwin College, University of Cambridge and an associate member of The Centre for Global Knowledge Studies. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Hans Rausing Fellow at the Office for History of Science at Uppsala University and held a research position in the Amazon basin at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. Uchôa’s work historicizes the geopolitical and epistemological transit of botanical and ethnographical materials from the Amazon basin to Europe between the nineteenth and twenty centuries. His current research examines the colonial encounters between British naturalists and Amerindian populations of the Amazonian Basin and broader issues such as relations between western and Amazonian regimes of knowledge and the links between natural history, race, anthropology and the 'ethno'-sciences.

‘Ethno-Science’ is a reading group dedicated to programmatic and critical texts on the changing relationship between scientific knowledge and what is variously called local, ‘indigenous’ or ‘native’ knowledges. Our starting point is the eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked naturalists to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany, zoology, ethnography, and other strands of nineteenth-century natural history relying on systematic surveys of national and colonial territories, and the eventual consolidation of ethno-disciplines in the twentieth century. The aim is to understand the relationship between reifications and reinterpretations of 'savage', 'indigenous', 'native' or 'primitive' knowledge and corresponding field practices of interrogation and interaction with local informants. We are interested in the putative shifts towards increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of ‘traditional’ knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

The meetings take place monthly, on Wednesdays from 3 to 4pm in 2021-22 academic year (7 meetings). All welcome.

Please email Dr. Raphael Uchôa (ru224@cam.ac.uk) or Dr. Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3@cam.ac.uk) if you're interested in joining. Zoom links to follow via email.

Michaelmas Term 2021

Oct 20, 2021: Nineteenth Century Travel Instructions

  • British Association for the Advancement of Science. Notes and Queries on Anthropology, for the Use of Travellers and Residents in Uncivilized Lands. London, E. Stanford, 1874.
  • Urry, James. “‘Notes and Queries on Anthropology’ and the Development of Field Methods in British Anthropology, 1870-1920.” Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, (1972): 45–57.

Nov 24, 2021: Economic botany in the Nineteenth Century

  • Nau, Eugène. ‘Flore indienne d’Haïti’, in Émile Nau. Histoire des Caciques d’Haïti, (Paris: Gustave Guérin et cie, Éditeurs, 1894).
  • Reyes, Michael. ‘Caribbean ethnobotany before Roumain: Eugène Nau's nineteenth-century contribution to an understanding of the “indian flora of haiti”’, Caribbean Quarterly 63(4) (2017), 467-483.

Lent Term 2022

Jan 19, 2022: Translations between Field and Lab

  • Bravo, Michael T. The Accuracy of Ethnoscience: A Study of Inuit Cartography and Cross-Cultural Commensurability. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, 1996.
  • Shmuely, Shira. ‘Curare: The Poisoned Arrow That Entered the Laboratory and Sparked a Moral Debate’. Social History of Medicine 33, no. 3 (2020): 881–97.

Feb 16, 2022: Ethno-scientist invited

TBC

Mar 16, 2022: Ethno-Science and historiography

  • Tilley, Helen. ‘Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?’ Isis 101, no. 1 (1 March 2010): 110–19.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. ‘Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium Ayapana: Retro-Botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940’. The Journal of Asian Studies 73, no. 1 (2014): 65–87.

Easter term 2022

May 18, 2022: Guest Lecture by Graham Dutfield (University of Leeds)

(Tittle TBC)

Jun 15, 2022: Recent reflections on bioprospecting

  • Das, Kaushiki. ‘The Global Quest for Green Gold: Implications of Bioprospecting and Patenting for Indigenous Bioresources and Knowledge’. Society and Culture in South Asia 6, no. 1 (2020): 74–97.
  • Pollock, Anne. ‘Places of Pharmaceutical Knowledge-Making: Global Health, Postcolonial Science, and Hope in South African Drug Discovery’. Social Studies of Science 44, no. 6 (2014): 848–73.