Internationalization of Colonial Knowledge Production

Geert Castryck, SFB 1199, Leipzig University; Katja Naumann, Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO), Leipzig; Network on Transimperial Cooperation, University of Erfurt
20.09.2018 - 21.09.2018
Berenike Eichhorn / Hannah Rieck-Günthner, Universität Leipzig

The workshop in preparation of a joint publication, dealt with three key processes of the 19th and 20th century, namely internationalization, knowledge production and colonialism. The aim was to bring together current trends in historiography, addressing the transnational workings of knowledge production, with a focus on the production of colonial knowledge / the colonial production of knowledge. The workshop organizers consider this nexus of (trans)national, (trans)imperial and colonial dynamics in the production of knowledge as a vital crux of global history as it underpins nineteenth- and twentieth-century academia as much as it facilitated and drew upon colonization in Africa and Asia. The workshop particularly emphasized the institutionalization of transnational and transimperial “colonial sciences”; its contribution to the establishment of academic disciplines, with all its Eurocentric, universalistic and imperialist underpinnings; and the enmeshment with colonial policy-making and lived realities in African and Asian colonies under control – or out of control.

The workshop consisted of four sessions. After an introduction by the organizers, GEERT CASTRYCK (Leipzig) and KATJA NAUMANN (Leipzig), the first session addressed “the Science of Colonial Conquest”. MAXIMILIAN GEORG and MAXIMILIAN STINTZING (both Leipzig) opened the session with a paper about British-American journalist-cum-explorer Henri Morton Stanley, who visited 20 geographical societies in 13 countries between the 1870s and 1890s. The paper related these visits to the knowledge derived from four African expeditions by Stanley, of which his two crossings of the continent in 1874–1877 and 1886–1889 were, from a geographical point of view, the most interesting. The paper addressed the content (“knowledge”) conveyed to those geographical societies, its colonial usability, and the degree to which Stanley adapted his message to his audiences. The discussion raised the question how geographical societies reacted to Stanley’s conveyed knowledge and how the knowledge Stanley collected had been produced. Geert Castryck went on to address constellations of knowledge and power during the process of colonization on three levels: first, the dividing of Africa in the wake the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884–85 based on colonial imagination, geographical knowledge and international agreements, second, the confrontation and cooperation between colonial officials of the German Empire and the Congo Free State in order to overcome deficient geographical knowledge, determine the border and impose colonial rule in the area around Lake Kivu, and third, their dependence on local information, informants and knowledge of the terrain and power relations. Castryck particularly focused on the role of Kinioni and on the shift from (geographical) knowledge of the land to (ethnographic) knowledge of people and politics in the process of colonization. During the discussion the continuities and differences with the period after the First World War were addressed, as well as questions about the importance of the Kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda in the region, about the practice of map making, and about the impact of sleeping sickness on the colonial control of borders and mobility.

The second and third sessions dealt with scientific colonialism, on the one hand focusing on the inter-colonial, inter-imperial and international institutionalization of colonial sciences, on the other hand reconstructing the interplay between science and imperialism beyond the inner circle of European colonial powers. KLEMENS WEDEKIND (Trier) analysed how veterinary research dealt with challenges in livestock holding in colonial Southern Africa. Livestock played a significant role for the economy and livelihood of both indigenous pastoral societies and the growing settler population, and thus was a crucial domain for colonial administrations. Referring to intercolonial conferences, institutionalization and the trans-imperial networking of the Swiss Arnold Theiler, Wedekind reconstructs an evolution from a predominance of European veterinary science to the establishment of a more autonomous field of tropical veterinary medicine. He also argued that the scientific specialization of livestock holding in Southern Africa contributed to colonial and national politics in favour of settlers, and thus to the racial segregation of Southern African society. The discussion drew attention to the influence of locations on the choice of conference themes at intercolonial veterinary conferences during the first decade of the 20th century.

The changing political situation in the region also rose the question in how far the word “colonial” has a different meaning before 1910, after 1910 and after World War I. STEFAN ESSELBORN (München) presented, based on four phases in the history of the International African Institute (IIALC/ IAI), how this institute contributed to the development of African Studies. Rooted in a transatlantic network of Protestant missionaries, the IAI was primarily interested in languages and cultures, and later on in practical anthropology, which held the promise to be of practical use for colonial administrations. The IAI was characterized by ambivalence between not being an imperial institute yet promising applied knowledge and a positive contribution to colonial administration in order to secure private and government funding. Perceived as an umbrella institute for late colonial state-sponsored African Studies after World War II, the IAI was a meeting ground for academic networking and the dissemination of concepts, methods and information, yet at the same time criticized for its colonial imprint by leaders of the rising field of African Studies (esp. African history) on the African continent. After the presentation the role of the Rockefeller Foundation and its influence on the decision which projects were to be financed was discussed. Power relations play a role in the internationalization of knowledge and are thus not only a process of integration, but we should also keep an eye on who is excluded.

DAMIANO MATASCI (Lausanne) closed the second session with a presentation about the international trajectory of “native education” and about the role of the French civil servant Albert Charton. Matasci demonstrated how Charton adopted concepts of “adapted education" and of “fundamental education” and promoted them in French imperial and inter-imperial settings as well as in the international context of UNESCO from the 1930s till the 1950s, where it was seen as a crucial part of incipient development politics. Charton mobilized trans-imperial and international cooperation, as can be seen from his role in numerous bi- and multilateral meetings and conferences. In the discussion, the temporal aspect or the evolution through time was highlighted, including a plea to search for connections and continuities after the colonial period and until the present day.

The third session started with a presentation by NADIN HEÉ (Berlin), introducing two cases of scientific colonialism as distinctive features of Japanese imperialism, one in the domain of colonial administration in Taiwan, the other concerning marine sciences, fishing skills and control of oceanic resources. Applying the concept of scientific colonialism to Japan, and looking at the Japanese development of it rather than reproducing a narrative of diffusion from Europe, invites us to reconsider scientific colonialism as well as its internationalization. This led, during the discussion, to a fundamental questioning of common assumptions about colonial knowledge production, about oceanic societies or about colonialism as such. How “colonial”, “imperial”, “trans-imperial” and “international” relate to each other was taken up as a central question for the workshop as a whole.

SARAH EHLERS (München) continued with the role of scientific colonialism beyond the small circle of European colonial powers, by reconstructing the trajectories of three German scholars in tropical medicine (Claus Schilling, Friedrich Karl Kleine, Gerhard Rose) after Germany had lost its colonies. She emphasized the continued importance of their relations and reputations in the colonial world. She also showed their involvement in experimentation with humans in Nazi concentration camps, leading to the death sentence and a conviction to lifelong imprisonment for two of the three above-mentioned scientists. The discussion addressed whether the internationalization strategies should be seen as a compensation for the loss of colonies or a continuation of scientific practices dating back to the German colonial period. Questions about the economic dimension (scientific career, labour and pharma) and possible continuities in Eastern Europe (GDR in particular) were raised as well.

Katja Naumann reversed the traditional narrative of US-American Area Studies as an American model spread internationally, by stressing the international learning process preceding this spread during the Cold War period. This transition from learning to spreading marks the transition from the colonial to the post-colonial period, and from the US becoming an informal empire, based on trying to win “the hearts and minds” in the Third World. Naumann makes a call to be precise in identifying whether processes of exchange are international or inter-imperial. The following discussion dealt with the interesting fact that in the process, no attention at all was given to the colonies of the US itself, like the Philippines or Hawaii, or to the contribution of Native American and African American scholars.

During the final session, papers by participants in the publication project who could not attend the workshop were discussed separately. In the end, FLORIAN WAGNER (Berkeley / Erfurt) presented a paper about the Indonesian botanical gardens of Buitenzorg. Its international nature, with researchers from all over the world spreading scientific knowledge as well as knowledge about the institute, its promise of agricultural success as a result of the improvement of plants and seeds, as well as its discourse of betterment for the natives, propagated the institute as a model for modern reformist colonialism. Wagner deconstructed this myth, indicating that natives were exploited and benefits were for European plantation holders. At the same time, he explained Buitenzorg’s international appeal as a legitimization for colonial rule. During the discussion, the argument of failure was expanded to the meagre scientific results when it comes to the institute’s core business of plant and seed improvement.

The paper proposals by ANNE KWASCHIK (Konstanz) – dealing with the interlinkages between colonialism and the rise of social sciences, particularly focusing on efforts at constructing a colonial sociology – and by MIGUEL BANDEIRA JERÓNIMO (Coimbra) – analysing the role of inter-imperial organizations in the internationalization of developmental knowledge and competing “developmentalisms” in the 1940s and 1950s – were discussed in their absence.

Conference Overview:

Session 1: The Science of Colonial Conquest: Geographical Knowledge and the Production of Colonial Space

Maximilian Georg / Maximilian Stintzing (IfL Leipzig): Henry Morton Stanley: An Explorer of Africa as a Popular Guest of Geographical Societies

Geert Castryck (U Leipzig): European Knowledge Orders, Inter-Imperial Negotiations, and the Colonial Encounter in the African Great Lakes Region (1885–1925)

Session 2: Scientific Colonialism (I): the International Making of Colonial Sciences

Klemens Wedekind (U Trier): Veterinary Research in Southern Africa and the Formation of Tropical Veterinary Medicine (1896–1920)

Stefan Esselborn (TU München): The International African Institute (IIALC / IAI) and the Global Invention of African Studies (1925–1965)

Damiano Matasci (U Lausanne): “An Irrepressible Need”: Albert Charton, French Colonialism and the Internationalization of African “Native Education” (1930s–1940s)

Session 3: Scientific Colonialism (II): Science and Imperialism beyond the European Colonial Powers

Nadin Heé (FU Berlin): Scientific Colonialism and How Japan Joined the Transimperial “Club”

Sarah Ehlers (TU München): Colonial Medicine without Colonies: German Sleeping Sickness Research after the Great War

Katja Naumann (GWZO Leipzig): Formation and Internationalization of the US-American Area Studies

Session 4: Discussion of Paper Proposals and Joint Publication

Florian Wagner (DHI-West – UC Berkeley / U Erfurt): The International Colonial Institute, Buitenzorg, and the Scientific Legitimization of Colonial Rule (1890s–1920s)


Anne Kwaschik (U Konstanz): International Congress of Colonial Sociology (1900) and the Discovery of the Social Side of Colonisation (tbc)

Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo (U Coimbra): Competing Knowledge? Interimperial Cooperation in Late Colonial Developmentalism (1940s–1950s)

Tagungsbericht: Internationalization of Colonial Knowledge Production, 20.09.2018 – 21.09.2018 Leipzig, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 21.12.2018, <>.
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