Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950
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.
chains of causes and consequences 1.8 million 3.7 million 2.97 million 350,000 473,100 104,751 52,592 25,332 12,200 336,080 1.01 million 80,235 246,800 440,000 31,000 109,119 39,573 4,500 India Canada Australia Egypt South Africa New Zealand Malay States* Ceylon West Indies Nigeria Sudan Gold Coast East Africa/ Kenya N. & S. Rhodesia Sierra Leone Uganda Nyasaland Gambia 315 8.4 4.9 12.6 5.97 1.1 2.9 4.5 1.8 17.5 3.4 1.5 4.04 1.7 1.4 2.96 1.1 .146 Population† (millions) 96.8 47.8 34.0 20.4
the Belgians the refusal of the Prince of Wales to act as President of the National Committee.”81 But on one issue there could be no room for compromise: future RGS expeditions under British auspices would carry with them no juridical mandate. While the ﬁnal circular announcing the African Exploration Fund’s 50 / Chapter One launch publicly endorsed “the enlightened efforts of the King of the Belgians to give a new impulse . . . for the systematic and continuous exploration of Africa,” it took
up its Econ and Political Faculty without any particular reference to Africa.”137 They considered ways to begin the research work envisaged for the Oxford institute and arrived at the idea that it would be best to ﬁnd someone to conduct a two- or three-year survey of “African 98 / Chapter Two research” culminating in a report that would identify “what is most worth doing and how it can best be done.”138 Their intent was to determine which topics should be given priority for research both in
practice of straight-line hoeing. These experiments demonstrated that the prevalent assumptions favoring European over African methods of cultivation were, as Moffat had suspected, entirely misplaced. The millet yields for the European test plots were “markedly inferior” to those for citemene, producing only 440 pounds per acre while citemene produced 1,200 pounds per acre. “In 1928–29, the hoed plots were so inferior that the crop, after a very uneven germination . . . was not worth reaping.”
support during this period.25 Examining its epistemic frameworks and intersections with development reveals a good deal about imperial research priorities. Indeed, much like Northern Rhodesia’s Ecological Survey, the Tsetse Research Department played a crucial role in interpreting local conditions and translating local knowledge for metropolitan decision makers. The turn-of-the-century epidemics of trypanosomiasis prompted unprecedented levels of biomedical ﬁeldwork within tropical Africa.